Why Everything Is Possible... Is Sometimes The Worst Advice

11 March 2019
In the era of Insta-positivity, there’s merit in staying real

Charlie Sanders was delirious. His basket had just won the Rhinos the game in the very last second.

“I wanna say something to everybody watching, yo, you can do anything, anything is possible, the world is yours.”

The reporter interviewing Sanders struggles to get a word in.

“There are no limits, alright, you can swim across the Atlantic, you can jump real high and touch the moon.

“I can fly, anybody can fly, if you believe in yourself the way I believe in myself tonight. You. Will. Fly.”
The reporter, concerned, interrupts: “Well, not literally.”

“Yes, literally. Kids, young kids, I want you to go up on your roofs right now. Fly into the night sky, people will see you flying and you can do anything.”
The reporter, now visibly panicking: “We want to remind the kids that you cannot actually fly.”

Sanders is now in full flow.

“Boys and girls, ages eight to 12, don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t do. All the pre-teens out there, listen to my voice. You Are. Immortal.”
As the reporter valiantly tries to tell viewers that Sanders is speaking metaphorically, Sanders is undeterred.

“Ain’t nothing figurative about it.”

Cut to Charlie Sanders at a press conference apologising to the “12 families who lost children”.

This is a fictional account of a fictional basketball player played by Jordan Peele from the Comedy Central show Key and Peele. It’s a spoof of an infamous 2008 post-match interview of the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett and delivers a delicious skewering of mindless positive thinking. And, of course, the dangers.

Anything is possible. You can do anything. It is the single worst piece of advice that you can give anyone. At least if you’re not speaking figuratively.
The harsh truth is that most things in life, at least anything worth dreaming about, are very much impossible.

Here is a very short list of things I have entirely failed at becoming: astronaut (though I remain hopeful), professional footballer, drummer in a rock band. I never married Olivia Newton John as my seven-year-old self had planned after watching Grease. And, despite what the constant stream of inspirational messages on social media insist, I have yet to own a billion dollar tech company. I doubt that I’m alone either.

Today, everywhere you look, you are bombarded with messages of positive thinking. From self-help books to television ads, from magazines to Instagram fitness trainers performing yoga on a beach in Bali. The soundbites are ultimately a variation on the same message: Anything is possible. You can do anything.

Some, like the patron saint of all things inane himself, Paulo Coelho, have made careers out of it.

But not every boy can be David Beckham or Tom Brady. Not every girl can be Beyoncé or Serena. Not everyone can be a tech billionaire. It’s called capitalism.

Which is not to say that every individual should not be encouraged to be the best version of themselves possible. To dream big, even. But advice should always come with a dash of realism too.

Success doesn’t come easy, otherwise everyone would be at it. If you want to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, you have to be willing to emulate their sacrifices, work harder than the next guy and, as brutal as it may sound, not every kid will be gifted or driven enough to rise above society’s general mediocrity. That is called Darwinism.

Sadly, modern society teasingly dangles fame and fortune to all, the talented and not so talented, the hard working and the lazy; it’s there, you just have to reach out and grab it. Except it’s not.

According to stereotype, Middle Eastern parents have traditionally implored their children to be one of three professions: engineer, doctor or lawyer.
This, for decades, left little or no scope for children to explore artistic endeavours. A cursory glance at the breadth of creative content across the Arab world is proof. In the fields of entertainment, but also literature and sport, we often trail the rest of the world by some distance.

For the most part, kids hardly knew any better. Far more importantly, few looked at Michael Jackson or Diego Maradona and thought, “this looks easy”. So children became stuck in an endless cycle of academia, with little time devoted to the creative arts.

It became a cliché. The son of the doctor must become a doctor.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Everybody wants to be a star, a celebrity or at the very least an Instagram influencer – they say the free stuff starts rolling in once you clock 50k followers. And no doubt the cream will rise as it always does. But for every Mohammed Assaf or Mohamed Salah, thousands of other Mohammeds will not make the grade.

As ever, truth can be found somewhere in the middle.

Sure we need the dreamers, the artists, the creators, the dancers. For the lucky, brilliant but hard-working few, fame and fortune awaits.
But we also still need, just as much if not more, the lucky, brilliant and hard-working nurses and policemen and firemen. And we’ll always need the engineers, doctors and lawyers who couldn’t make it as drummers in rock bands.

So, please, reach out for the moon like Charlie Sanders. But remember, sometimes, not everything is possible. And you can’t always do anything. Ain’t nothing figurative about it.