You Cannot “Do Anything You Put Your Mind To”

Think about that phrase…

It is incredibly misleading and ripe for abuse.

Yes I said it.

Like the infamous teacher who told his graduating high school students that they were not special, I am telling you that none of us can do whatever we put our minds to.


As a kid, I remember thinking that I could jump my bike of a home made ramp. I can do anything I put my mind to right?

I may have been about 12 or 13 years old and one day I decided that I could build a ramp, set it up in my parents drive way, and jump my bike off of it. With my vast years of experience and know-how, I went to the busted up shed not far from my house, gathered some pieces of wood to make a ramp, grabbed my Dad’s hammer and some nails and went to work. It wasn’t anything fancy, but sure enough, I built a ramp.

What do you think happened next?

Photo by Mohammad Hoseini Rad on Unsplash
Photo by Mohammad Hoseini Rad on Unsplash

Nope. Wasn’t that.

“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”

–Jim Horning

Do you think that Laird Hamilton just thought about surfing a 20-30 foot wave and went out and did it one day? No experience?

Hell no.

He probably spent years surfing different breaks all along the coast, keeping an eye on the weather so that a big swell wasn’t missed. Talked to other surfers who had some experience before scouting out a big wave spot that was right for him. Checked it out once, twice, three times.

I would bet he even backed off once or twice before ever dropping in on a wave so big, that if he fell wrong, it could hold him under water for minutes…potentially drowning him.

“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”

–Buzzy Trent

This image captures the culmination of my true point.

Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash)
Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash)

You can do anything you put your EFFORT in to

Nike says “Just Do It”.

Their marketers recognized that they are in the business of inspiring action. People don’t finish races by thinking about them.

T.S. Eliot said:

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

Thought can spark, mold, and give birth to something real… but the end of “putting your mind to” something should be a focused effort manifested through action.

Only through effort, trial, error, more effort, failure, adjustment, and even more effort can you succeed.


Photo by Joseph Ngabo on Unsplash
Photo by Joseph Ngabo on Unsplash

During my late 20s I worked in recruiting in the Los Angeles area.

At one point I thought to myself “I’m good at this. I can be the top recruiter in the nation in my field”.

Yet unlike when I was 12 years old with my bike ramp, I already had a few years of experience and knew what I was doing. With intentional thought and planning, I looked at what the previous year’s top recruiter had done and set my sights to beat that.

Then…I worked my ass off.

What do you think happened next?

About a year later I got a call. “Scott, you’re the top recruiter in the entire western region of the United States. Congrats! We’ll call you after the national board meets.”

I had beat the numbers of the previous year’s top recruiter and while I didn’t end up winning the national level award (I was runner up)…I still considered this a giant success. My career trajectory altered drastically after that and then only picked up steam.

My EFFORT paid off.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash
Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

But it took time.

Don’t let thoughts of eventual success scare you away from initial failure

I’ve failed more times in my life than I care to admit. Personally and professionally. You have too.

Don’t shy away from that fact. Own it. Reflect and learn. You are stronger, smarter, and better for it. Failure is ok. Failure is a part of life.

Your effort doesn’t always equate to the initial success you thought you would have. It does equal progress and growth, even if that progress isn’t a straight line and the growth is painful. We are not special.

You cannot do anything you put your mind to.

BUT…

You can do anything you put your effort in to.

And that is special.

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