There’s a tendency among those of us that dream big to… undermine our own ambitions. We grew up dreaming of the big screen, and rocket-ships, and political reform — but in the end, we eventually decided “it’s just not worth it”. We gave up before we really got started.
We threw away our shot.
We sell ourselves attractive stories about why giving up is actually the best thing to do:
- “Wanting to change the world was actually just an egotistical dream. Giving up on that is a sign of maturity.”
- “I just want to be happy. I couldn’t work that hard and pursue happiness at the same time.”
- “I’m not a hero, and heroes don’t exist. Those who I used to look up to as heroes are actually hiding the fact that they’re doing this selfishly for things like status or money.”
But the truth is, heroes exist.
Those people you looked up to as a kid — the astronauts, NASA engineers, world famous writers, civil rights activists, political heroes…. They were real. They’re not as perfect as you once thought, but being a hero isn’t about being perfect — even comic books get this.
The truth is, there’s a hero in all of us. Most of us rationalize that part of us away, acting as if a desire to do great things is just some inner child that needs to grow up. So we grow up, push it down, lower our sights, focus on other passions.
Others don’t: those are the heroes. They felt the same doubts you feel — they felt unqualified at times, too: Not smart enough, not strong enough, too scared, desirous of a simpler and easier life.
But they persevered anyway, despite their misgivings. They knew they had a chance to change the world — they didn’t throw away their shot.
When Congress was selecting a general to lead the American revolution, George Washington had this to say about himself:
“My Abilities and Military experience may not be equal to this extensive and important Trust.”
Washington doubted his own ability. Though, to me, his doubts about leaving his family are far more relatable. From a letter to his wife Martha:
“That so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my Capacity and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you at home.”
Sound familiar? Washington wanted a simpler, easier life. He wanted to stay home with his wife and children, and be a simple Virginia planter.
Imagine if he did.
Washington was well aware of his internal conflict. He concluded his letter by writing:
“as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this Service, I shall hope that my undertaking of it, is designed to answer some good purpose.”
At his weakest point, Martin Luther King Jr. had resolved to back out of the Civil Rights protests. He wrote about it later:
“It seemed that all my fears had come down on me at once…And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak.”
Jane Goodall changed our understanding of animals forever, but when she was first breaking into the academic scene, she wasn’t so sure:
“I was the eighth person in the history of Cambridge to come in without an undergraduate degree. And I was really scared. You can imagine. And of course it didn’t help when the professors told me I’d done everything wrong.”
None of this is to say you have to be a hero, because you don’t; there’s nothing wrong with choosing a simpler and easier path.
But for the dreamers out there — the ones who started their journey certain and self-assured, but find themselves filled with self-doubt — you’re not alone. It’s okay to want it. Don’t throw away your shot.