My dad gave me a foundational piece of wisdom about 20 years ago, and I caught myself remembering it this morning on my way to practice my roller-blades skillz (more on that later).
I laugh at it now because it sounds a bit silly, but he taught me a valuable lesson when I was still very young.
It came from the fact that I was born in Nigeria. My parents were missionaries at the time and if it’s your time to come, you’ll arrive wherever you’re destined to.
But when I was younger, being from Nigeria really confused me and I couldn’t put it all together in my head. So after much deliberation, I ran it past the one person I knew would set me straight, my dad…
Me: So, I’m “African” then? But I’m not black like other African people and I can’t speak their funny language?
Dad: No, you’re not African. You’re the same as me.
Me: But people who are born here are from here, and we call them Irish/British. But I wasn’t born here so I can’t be called that.
Dad: It doesn’t matter where you’re born – that doesn’t tell you who you are. If you were born in a garage, that wouldn’t make you a car.
And with that simple sentence he blew my little mind right open. I can’t remember what age I was when I asked that, but I guess around 10-12.
Guess what? You can choose who you are
I had gotten myself all in a muddle by wondering why I was from Africa, but I wasn’t black and I couldn’t speak African (<- that, by the way, in the mind of a 10 year old, is the single all-encompassing language of a continent spanning many different countries).
Clearly, at the age of 10 I had a lot yet to learn.
But my dad taught me the lesson that the tags and labels we use, how we define ourselves, doesn’t need to have anything whatsoever to do with the environment and circumstances of our lives.
So I’m not Nigerian. At the time I remember being slightly disappointed by that because I had identified myself with it. Of course, I hadn’t identified with what it was like to be Nigerian, but rather with how I defined it at the time – i.e. different; exotic in some way; unique; I stood out.
Now I had to accept that I was normal. Or did I? Do I?
No. I can be whatever I want to be. I can choose to identify with whatever label I please.
But there’s a danger in that.
At the point where you define who you are (as we all do all the time), you have a choice – to do so in a way that gives you power, or to strip yourself of the necessary strength to achieve your success.
Choose to empower yourself, or default to your fears
When you talk to yourself… yes(!), we all talk to ourselves (the only difference between those “crazy” folk who mumble to themselves is that they make noise when they do it while you keep it all inside. We’re all just as “crazy” as they are.)
So anyway, when you’re talking and convincing yourself of all the reasons you can’t do a particular thing, you define who you are and what you’re capable of through the limits you place upon your life. You effectively lay out your comfort zone, dictating what you can and can’t do.
Unfortunately, we’re all so accustomed to underestimating what we’re capable of that we never give ourselves the chance to get started in the first place.
What are those little things that you have been holding off doing because you “can’t“.
What have you been putting off for months… years even… because you’re simply afraid of letting other people see you when you’re not quite at your best.
Last week I bought a pair of roller-blades for the first time in my life. Since I’d seen my brother on them when he was much younger, I’d always wanted to learn, but I’d never picked up the courage to do so. Why?
- I’d fall and crack myself open.
- I’d look like a complete idiot in public wobbling all over the show – grown adults should be strong, dexterous, fearless. Roller-blades would made me look like muppet.
- People would laugh at me while I learned it. It’s okay as a child because children are allowed to be silly and they’re supposed to learn new things.
Well I bought those roller-blades and went out to a public space and got to work. Learning the skill is one thing, but overcoming my silly limitations and getting outside of my comfort zone was powerful.
And I want more of it!
Impossible is nothing!
I read this quote the other day from Muhammed Ali:
‘Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.’
So get to it. Define your best you and believe that you have that power. Take that action; make that change; and redraw the edges of your comfort zone.