“Myth: A popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society.”
How many times have you heard someone or yourself use the dreaded C word? It’s a vile word that demoralizes. It can also rob people of their lives. Yes, “can’t” is a horrid, despicable part of anyone’s vocabulary.
Society has its many pluses, but it is an ordered organism. Boxes and labels provide more comfort. When we meet people socially, one of the most commonly asked questions is “What do you do [for a living]?” Once we know that our minds quickly form assumptions and expectations. If I tell someone I work in hospice, the typical first response is: “You people are angels.” When they hear I’m a chaplain, all of a sudden they’re reviewing what they’ve told me so far in case they need to apologize for any inappropriate vocabulary that might be offensive to a respectable man of the cloth. Heaven forbid I let it slip that I’m a Zen monk. The silence becomes even more stifling.
“I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
The above quote is attributed to Thomas Edison. Kurt Vonnegut, an internationally acclaimed writer, had boxes of rejection letters stating he had no talent and should give up writing. I have had hundreds of patients who on their deathbed reviewed with me how much power the C word had over their lives and how it left them with so many regrets, having raped their dreams.
Then there is the myth the dreamers create, that anything is possible. “You can’t fly because you think you can’t.” Between Twitter, Facebook, and infomercials, there are hundreds of people trying to convince us all that we can earn obscene amounts of money, retire in our 20s, beat cancer by consuming a certain proprietary blend of herbs.
Inevitably, when our feet are beginning to leave the ground, someone feels it’s their responsibility to ground us, to be the voice of reason. Oh sure, most often it’s out of genuine care. At least we tend to hope so.“Honey, how will you make a living as an artist?” “Do you really want to waste all that time and money in college to be a teacher when you could enjoy a much better lifestyle as an engineer?”
Quitting your job, your “normal” life to travel the world? Take your children around the globe, are you mad? Don’t you know how unsafe some of those places are? How can you possibly afford all that travel? I wish I was brave enough. In this economy?—These myths are just as powerful to the people who subscribe to them as Zeus was to the ancient Greeks. And I’m not saying one person’s myth is more correct or true than another’s. That’s the beauty of myths, you get to decide which ones you give power.
So what do you do? Do you forge your own path when the briars begin to sprout and block your way, or do you turn around and head back to what you know? Whose myth are you living?