When I was a freshman in college there was this computer programming professor who prided himself for being a ‘realist’. He worked for a big multi-national company in Brazil, and he would boast about the fact that he had worked for many other major players in the IT world and therefore knew all the ‘truths’ about the field.
One of his statements was that most students were there just because of the money and that he could guarantee that we would all be very disappointed because we would never make more than X a year (he actually mentioned some monthly amount – can’t remember but it was a very average middle class salary).
I could see the shock in the face of some of my friends. I must have been shocked as well because this happened 18 years ago and I still remember the story. However, I don’t think we were shocked for the same reason. While some of my friends were thinking “oh man, should I change fields then?” I was thinking “I should write down his name and address so I can write to him once I make more than that”.
Throughout my life I have been in situations like this. People trying to tell me what to expect (or not) from a situation just to find out that things are completely different.
The few times I actually said something about it (I do tend to just keep my thoughts to myself) the reply was that I was a fool for thinking that “I was someone special”.
The weird part is that I’ve always thought of myself as someone not special. I truly consider myself a pretty average guy in many respects. What really surprised me in that statement is just how little these people think of above average people! I wasn’t saying I would be president or something like that!
But even though I never thought I could go to the moon or start a new Microsoft, I was pretty damn sure that I had a very good chance to make more money than what that scholastic fool was telling us.
This is really not just about money. I’ve come across this in a huge variety of situations. When I told people I was moving to the US, I was told I would come back after a while because “I was never going to be a true American”. When I decided to get married young I was told I would soon be divorced (I’ve been married for 16 years now). The list goes on and on.
Now, you might say: “Well, many IT guys don’t make a lot of money”, or that “statistically speaking people who marry young do get divorced more often”, or “many immigrants do come back home”. That is probably all true. But I wonder: Are these things happening because they have to happen or because people already work under this framework that sets them up for failure?
I can only tell you my own life experience. After everything I’ve been through I think that people are highly influenced by these sort of self fulfilling prophecies and I’ve seen an amazing number of people who pretty much sabotaged themselves in every possible way and used these myths as cheap excuses.
If there is one thing I am trying to teach my kids is that you have to ignore what these naysayers tell you. You and only you are the master of your own destiny. For good or bad, it is all you. Sounds like cheap self-help motto but it is one of the most important things that I’ve realized so far.