If I can do it, you can do it
Have you thought this? Said this? I know I have - and do - all the time. All. The. Time. I’ve said it here, in this very blog, right to your faces.
And if you’ll indulge me for just a moment while I bust out my therapy skills - skills I have honed on an “n” of exactly 1 - I can share that this is a type of projection, which is this weird and fascinating little thing our brains do, often outside of our awareness, to protect us.
That is to say, it is perfectly normal and can be beyond our control. But it is also something that affects our interactions so it can be helpful to be aware of it and its potential implications.
Because sometimes, we say it encouragingly - Come on guys! If I can do it, you can do it! It’s meant to be supportive; it’s meant to let someone know you can relate. I know what you’re going through and it might be tough, but I did it myself, I believe you can too.
But sometimes we say it with frustration - Come on guys! If I can do it, you can do it! You just can’t understand it. You might even think to yourself, I did this, I know what it takes, and you just need to give a little more effort.
And sometimes it is not us saying it at all, sometimes it is said to us. If I can lose weight, quit smoking, run every day, get through school, etc, etc, you should be able to do it too!
Whatever the case, there’s a whole lot of assuming going on in those few short words.
Like, let’s say I look up to this elite, Olympic-level sprinter; the fastest woman in the world. I aspire to be like her; I want to do what she does. And she says to me, “Come on, Bridge! If I can do it, you can do it!” So I work day and night for years, and train and practice because hey if she can do it, I can do it! Right?
Um, well, no; actually, that’s wrong. I mean objectively, that’s wrong. What both of us failed to take into account in our assumption is that my 5 foot, 4 inch frame and pear-shaped body-type realistically will not allow me to be the fastest woman in the world.
I mean, let’s face it, there’s more than just training that got Michael Phelps where he is - he’s also basically built like marine life.
As it turns out, there is so much more to any one person’s successes, accomplishments, and failures than that one person; no matter their dedication and perseverance. There are other people, there is environment, there is opportunity or lack thereof. There are a million little moments that add up to one person’s experience.
And we may unwittingly diminish that experience when we say if I can do it, you can do it. We might miss the struggle they’ve been through trying to get where we are or we might miss the energy they’ve put into getting somewhere else.
And what about what happens to us when we hear the same? If you struggle with comparison, for instance, it can lead you down the rabbit hole of other people can do this, I should be able to do this, what is wrong with me?
If we’re truly serious about learning to accept ourselves and each other for who we are, we’ve got to accept what we are capable of as well as what we are not, and not as flaws or defects, but as the natural variety that exists among human beings. We’ve got to recognize how we are similar and celebrate how we are different.
We’ve got to understand that our own unique set of circumstances got us where we are - for better or for worse - and that there may be a different level of struggle involved for different people to get to the same place. Or gosh, maybe they don’t even want to get to that place and they are busy with their head down trying to get somewhere else.
No one else can know your experience after all, just as you can not know another’s. Simply realizing that I think, can go a long way and is the first step to a much more productive conversation.