Can We Be Whoever We Want to Be?

There is a fallacy that dogs us our whole lives, instilled in us by our parents, teachers, preachers, writers, and everyone else who has influence over young minds. We are told over and over again that we can be whoever we want to be, but this simply is not true. We can never be anyone other than ourselves, no matter how hard we try, and anyone who has ever taken a vacation to get away from it all knows this. No matter where you go, there you are.

We can participate in the creation of ourselves, trying on new styles of dressing and living, for example, but that does not change the essence of our being. We go through many metamorphoses during the course of our lives, from infant to adolescent, from adolescent to adult, from adult to . . . whatever one is called in the last stage of life. (Odd that there isn’t a noun to denote such a person. There are words to describe all the other stages of life, but not that one.) We also go through traumas and grief and come out the other side feeling like a different person, but that person is just another facet of our being, not a completely new entity.

Often when we are told we can be whoever we want to be, the speaker is referring to our occupation or vocation, not our essence, but even this variation of the saying is a fallacy, because we cannot always be whoever we want to be. For example, a short, fifty-year-old man with small hands and an inability to handle a basketball will never be a professional basketball player, garning millions of dollars and fans, no matter how much he desires it. Not every girl who dreams of being romanced by the love of her life and living happily ever after achieves her dream. Too often the frogs she kisses are simply frogs. Or the love of her life dies before the relationship can come to full flower, leaving her alone and grieving, which happens way more than we ever imagine.

Even worse than being made to believe we can be whoever we want is being made to believe that we cannot be who we want to be.

When I was in high school, my sophomore English teacher told me that she saved papers from all the students she thought would make it as a writer but that she never saved any of mine. It was sort of a strange and very cruel thing to say, particularly since she knew I planned to write. I never thought of her as cruel, so her words puzzled me, but other than that, the slur never really mattered. I had no burning desire to be a writer — my saying so was more of a statement of my love of words, and I have kept that love throughout all my life.

I never really had dreams, though I often wanted not to be me, which is why my current commitment to being me is so important. But now I wonder if I need to find (or create) a dream, too. Are impossible dreams important, helping us through the traumas of our lives? Or does the unfilfillment of those dreams cause other traumas? Sometimes a miracle does happen, and the impossible suddenly becomes possible, but a dependence on miracles seems a rather inept way of planning for one’s future, no matter what our age. So maybe the fallacy that we can be whoever we want to be isn’t important. Perhaps it’s the instillation of dreams that is important.

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14 Responses to “Can We Be Whoever We Want to Be?”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    It’s sad that many people’s dreams don’t always get fulfilled. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have meaningful lives: Martin Luther King Jr. probably was hampered a lot by racism and the pessimism around him. Look at him now!

  2. leesis Says:

    personally Pat I have taught my son that the important thing is to discover who he his, what his talents are and that he will find this journey is endless and he will be amazed to discover just what he is capable of. I teach him this because this has been my journey. Dreams have at times come true..when they match my potential and at times haven’t…usually when either I’m not good at that particular something, or it’s dependant on others. But more than me most folk I’ve been involved with in my work and privately have amazing unused potential; unused either because of limiting beliefs or because of dreams they haven’t let go of that are outside their scope.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s a much better way of doing things — teaching a kid that he will be amazed to discover just what he is capable of. He will be amazed and probably less disappointed than those who are led to believe (with no evidence to corroborate the assurance) that they can be whoever they want. That should be everyone’s journey — to find their true potential. Dreams sometimes seem paltry things compared to the true value of the human spirit.

  3. Kathy Says:

    I agree – we cannot be whatever we want to be. There are limits. And while many of us needed to hear the message of following dreams in the past because it just wasn’t supported, it’s become the main pursuit – following your dreams. Too often, the world follows extremes – it’s no dreams and then it’s all about dreams. Too often the dream seems to revolve around being “rich and famous.” We’re not all meant to be in show business and it’s sad to see other pursuits undervalued. And as much as I’d love to be onstage singing (at least, in my head), I don’t have superstar talent and there’s some merit in being in the audience and appreciating the performance. There’s merit in being a teacher or a dentist or any occupation we’re called to do. Am I making sense? Your topic hit on this thing I’ve been pondering…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s a good point, that we might have needed to hear the message of following dreams, there comes a time when following the dream becomes counterproductive. I saw a quote from David Orr the other day that really struck home: The planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every form and shape. It needs people who live well in their places. Exactly what you are saying!

      • Kathy Says:

        Yes! It goes along with the idea that we all have a calling and whatever your calling, do it well, do it with passion, do it with love! We are all needed for what it is we do.

  4. Aaron Paul Lazar Says:

    But one thing we CAN do, dear Pat, is be whomever we want to be in our books! I find that controlling this parallel universe is immensely satisfying, because not only can we be the heroes if we so desire, we can banish the cancers and heart problems and kill the bad guys very thoroughly. I love that, LOL.


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