So many of us limit ourselves. It is easy to do. It is difficult to counter the negative messages that explicitly and implicitly specify limits on what one can achieve. It is hard to break out of the box that your parents and teachers and extended family and community and the media have set for you. They often do it from care and concern. Some do it from envy. Others do it from ignorance or to uphold the status quo. It is hard to ignore the rules and other shouldn’ts.
Yet everyday, one learns about people who do just that and go on to achieve marvelous things. People who didn’t buy into what they weren’t supposed to do. Who continued to work and struggle until they achieved what they wanted.
The biggest naysayer in our lives is often that voice in our own head. The voice that fears that you do not have what it takes and so discourages you. The voice that puts up a laundry list of obstacles that seem insurmountable. The voice that looks around and compares itself to others who have accomplished what you want to do and judges you to not be of the same caliber.
Truth is, I have denied myself as many opportunities as have ever been denied me. I often didn’t try because I was afraid of two letters – “N” and “O.” Sometimes I was afraid of walking into new terrain where I wasn’t sure that I belonged or could hang. One day an internal voice said to me, “You belong wherever you land. Whether you were invited or you found an opening you belong.” I decided to listen to that voice. Plus, I remember that a lot of people struggled and died so that I could go through closed doors, so that I wouldn’t be restricted as a Black person or as a woman or as a person from a low-income background. Despite persistent divisions and segregation in the U.S. there is also abundant opportunity if I, if we don’t say no to ourselves. If we can have the internal esteem, fortitude, chutzpah, and persistence to believe in the world’s bounty and that we should benefit from it (as well as participate in creating more).
Through the distance of years, I can look back and see opportunities that I totally blew because I didn’t believe in myself or was afraid. Luckily, other opportunities have happened that I did take advantage of but I must say, there were a few that have not come back this way again. I am admiring of people whose sense of self determination is so strong and whose focus is so acute that they pursue their dreams no matter how wild or unlikely they seem to others of us.
Don’t say no to yourself and ignore most of the nays you hear from others. It is only then that you will succeed. Success is not always about accomplishing a goal, it is also about making the effort to reach a goal. My sister, who has struggled with and triumphed through lupus for three decades has as one of her mottoes that she’s “going to wear out not rust out.” And so, she doesn’t say no to herself or to life. She says, “Yes, bring it,” ignoring the cautions of her well-meaning siblings, mother and others. I’m still learning and I’m determined to say yes to myself even if others tell me no. Nothing will succeed but a try.