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I very much wanted to be the Badass. You know – the one from Jen Sincero’s book, “You are a Badass”, a motivational effort aimed at making you believe that nothing is impossible, that your magical powers are simply waiting to be tapped into and that the life you are dreaming of is completely within your grasp if only you tweak a few things, like your entire mental DNA.
And who can resist getting sucked into the positivity of this can-do approach, of believing we are invincible, capable of achieving the loftiest of goals by putting everything on the line in return for the proverbial pot of gold?
Of course, it’s easy to fall prey to the enchantress whispering in our ear that we are up to the task. After all, when was the last time we were truly encouraged? And by that I don’t mean the tepid I-know-you-can-do-it pats on the back from the co-worker trying to console us after a work meltdown, or strangers on social media deeming our comments worthy of a like-button. We so want to be able to identify with that mountain-moving image of ourselves that we get momentarily swept away, buying into the illusion that the author is addressing us – yes, us! – as if he or she truly knew our innermost selves. The words are so warm, and funny, and down-to-earth that we can almost be forgiven for such a moment of (let’s call it) weakness.
But the truth is we are woefully predictable. Imagine, if you will, a fake personality test inside a focus group with the results assigned to each participant in completely random fashion. As long as the overall feel was positive and not overly specific, with some traits made to sound personal, like they applied only to you - wink-wink - chances are that most people would likely identify with the character description. “You are a generous soul”, “your tastes are quite unique”, “you have a great sense of humour”, “you are trusting despite your initial scepticism”, “you can have trouble getting motivated”, “you feel misunderstood”, etc. One must almost be an alien to not feel like any of these statements fit in any way, shape or form. And who doesn’t want to believe they have a great sense of humour?
So here you are, reading this book, suddenly feeling very understood, and identifying with all these traits of potential greatness. We so desperately crave validation that we are willing to suspend all rational thought, our good common sense and the right we have earned to claim that we know ourselves better than some stranger who, frankly, has little more on the line than the few dollars he will make off the book you bought and that you will set aside as soon as you’re done with it in order to go back to your daily routine.
That is not to say that these authors are not sincere, or that they are not truly trying to help you get out of your rut. But they are not accountable, and there’s always that disclaimer – the one that implies that you have to want it enough – or else it won’t work, so it’s win-win for them, and status quo for us.
Because the truth is that most of us can’t or won’t be able to live out our ultimate dreams, and it belittles us to have examples waved in our faces of people – oftentimes the authors themselves – who started off with nothing, living out of an unheated one-room apartment and having to choose between breakfast, lunch and supper, yet somehow ended up with a beachfront mansion, a fancy car and a zoo of exotic pets. Of course, we are told that the dream need not be extravagant, and that if all you want is your little cupcake venture, then that’s just as good, but somehow it always comes back to your being able to rake in the millions doing exactly what you love if only you’re willing to go all the way.
So then how do you explain it to the person who has put in the effort, the time, the blood, sweat and tears, and still has nothing to show for? Do you tell her that the effort, while valiant, fell short of a couple of vials of blood and several beads of perspiration? That she simply didn’t believe in it quite enough? That she gave up too soon, even if she’s been at it for most of her adult life? That she wavered on her commitment when she was unwilling to quit the part-time job that was allowing her to pay the bills while she was working on her dream? That’s a bit of a copout. Is there never a time when one must accept that the dream has run its course and that it’s better to let it go? What about plainly unrealistic dreams, like that of the 5-ft-3 140-pounder who wants to play defense in football? Or people who want what they want for all the wrong reasons, like those who would rather be actors for the fame than for the love of the art? And what about inequality, for that matter? The aspiring doctor from a well-to-do family can easily afford not to work part-time while studying; the one from a low-income background can’t afford NOT to work while studying and may just have to make an excruciating choice.
Can people overcome the odds? Certainly. But many won’t, and it’s unfair to make people believe they can. Despite their best intentions, these types of authors border on disingenuous when they build the reader up and then leave him or her to deal with the fallout once the accumulation of life circumstances renders the wall too high to climb.
We all have baggage. We have responsibilities. We have handicaps. And we don’t live in a bubble – we are accountable to the people around us and we feel the need to respect those contracts of honour. We sacrifice parts of our selves, and try to find a balance between give and take, all of which takes a toll and puts a serious stick in our wheels at times. Maybe that’s why the message of “you can have it all” – one that basically gives us the green light to act selfishly - is so appealing.
But when all is said and done, I’d much rather read a book that encourages you to give all that you are willing to give within reason, as defined by you, and to do it with reckless joy despite the full awareness that it may not pan out – something that is in no way a reflection of your worth as a human being and certainly not a failure on your part. This frees you from any self-imposed expectations while saving you the regret of not having tried; you will have learned some new lessons, strengthened some mental and emotional muscles and made a ton of discoveries along the way. Not a loss by a long shot.
I’d much prefer a book that encourages you to take a chance, try something different, test the waters of the unfamiliar and see where it goes. It may lead you in a whole new direction, or it may bring you back to your starting point, with a renewed sense of appreciation for what you have. It may work out, or it may not, but that’s the thing – either result is fine. It’s not the obtaining it at all costs that is the goal here, it’s the trusting yourself to try, to be able to handle the outcome, whatever it may be, to be allowed to redefine your priorities should you change your mind, and the faith that you – YOU – know better than anyone who you are, what you want, what you need and how you define success.
You may not have all the answers - not right away, and maybe not for a while. You may not have the perfect plan, and you may not be operating under the most ideal conditions. Life is messy. But the important thing is to start with what you know with absolute certainty, and to do something today toward that goal. And then do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. We may have been misled into thinking that we are one big decision away from an entirely different life – which, really, seems a little daunting - when instead we can break it down to a succession of mini-decisions, none of which need to be perfect or written in stone, and you build it from there.
And in the end, who knows - you may just turn out be a Badass after all.
Sandra is a blogger, life coach and activist.