“Be all you can be.” “Just do it.” “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” What’s wrong with these mantras or modern day adages? They give false hope to more people than they aspire.  Yet people adhere to these clichés as though they are the panacea for one’s success.

I am a retired teacher and early in my teaching career an adage was making its rounds. The saying was, “You can be anything you want to be, just as long as you put your mind to it.” The problem with this adage is that it is not true. Everyone has limits on the ability spectrum. True, some people have a wider or broader spectrum than others. For those with greater ability the mantra, “You can be anything you want to be,” may hold more truth than not. At the time I was working with special needs students and at that time many of my colleagues preached that mantra with the idea of building their self-esteem. I thought then and still do today we were building false security.

As talent, cognitive reasoning, and physical ability diminish the mantra, “You can be anything you want to be, just as long as you put your mind to it becomes less true. The students I worked with in a thousand years could never achieve the dreams they had for themselves. I remember telling one of my students, who wanted to be a certified public accountant he may want to look for a career using his hands. His math skills and mathematical reasoning ability was not conducive for a career involving mathematical thinking. Even so, I was told that I should help the student reach his goals, not stymy them, by doing so I may cause low self-esteem. I believed and still feel that giving students false hope is much more of a cause for low self-esteem.

I saw this student a few years after he graduated and asked how he was doing. “He told me he was working as a mechanic. I did not ask why he was not working as a CPA, I knew why.  He told me he was working on diesel engines. Luckily, this student learned for himself how to channel his abilities and interest into a successful career.

Another area where we give young people false hope is in the area of sports. For example, parents see their son or daughter run circles around other players on the soccer field and automatically think their kid will be the next soccer superstar. As their child grows older the competition becomes greater. Their son  or daughter is no longer just competing against the local soccer team, he or she is now vying for a position on the travel soccer team where perhaps 500 or even a thousand athletes may be trying out, and all equally as adept as the next super athlete.

So, should we not drive our children to achieve all they can? The Army mantra, “Be all you can be,” at least leaves room for limitations. It does not assume the person can be anything he or she wants to be. In essence it tells the person use your talents and skills to become a master of you. In the end, I believe we do a disservice to our children telling them they can be anyone or anything they want to be, just put your mind to it. We need to realize we all have limits.