‘I would have aced that test if I had studied for it’ is a common expression used by students who consider themselves to be relatively smart. Smart enough, in fact, so that instead of going through their textbooks, notes or exercises they decide to indulge in something more thrilling, such as gaming or catching up with their favourite Netflix show. Fortunately, their intelligence is indeed high enough for them to do relatively well on a test, all the while spending the majority of their free time on bread and circuses. It is, of course, up to them how to spend their time, but it is up to us to recognise that talking is not the same as doing.
‘Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king’’, Tywin Lannister once said. Likewise, any person with a cigarette in their hands declaring ‘I can quit whenever I want’ is very likely to be trying to convince themselves of it more than anyone else. Most of the time it’s an obvious lie, a self-deception of a sort, as lying to ourselves is a much more frequent occurrence than we would like to admit. It’s not unlikely for the person arguing against the fact that she’s a cigarette addict to end up dying of lung cancer, or for a self-proclaimed smart person to drop out of university. Yes, maybe somewhere deep down there is potential in these people, maybe to overcome their addiction, to discipline themselves to study or to put away that glazy, juicy doughnut, but if that potential is merely theoretical and not being utilised as it should be, it’s as good as if it wasn’t there in the first place. Say there is a person who was very talented as a young child, smart and creative and all that jazz, but for whatever reason, be it the environment, a lack of drive or anything at all, became a janitor. Now take another person who has none of the above qualities and also became a janitor, but merely because he simply wasn’t that bright a person. Is there really a difference between the two if they both became janitors in the end anyway?
Knowing that ‘deep down I’m a good person’ is another commonplace example of such self deception. Despite hitting our spouses or lying to our dearest of friends, we tell ourselves that somewhere inside we’re actually kind and sweet, because that is much easier than dealing with the truth of the matter – that we’re not perfect. We’re not that smart and not that kind, and we do stupid things to the people we love the most. But only once we can admit these misdoing to others, as much as to ourselves, can we begin to change our behaviour for the better. And then, it doesn’t matter what the past was about, what matters is what you are at this moment, because that is the only thing you can have any impact on. The common saying that people don’t change is as misleading as it is untrue, as you are under no obligation to anyone to be the person you were 10 minutes ago, it’s just a matter of habits and expectations, and neither of those are set in stone. Once that is realised, what’s left is merely execution and persistence.
Philosopher Eric Dodson once said that unfulfilled geniuses are a dime a dozen, and that is not only true in academic or career sense, but in every other aspect of our lives as well. What’s the use of having a ticket to a brilliant theatrical play if you never actually go? Despite not having a fitting suit to wear, no smart-casual shoes and no idea whether you’ll even like it or not, you can always give it a shot anyway and see if it’s something you’re fond of. Despite all the uncertainties and anxieties, courageously sit through the entire play and if you don’t like in the end, at least now you know for sure, that you’re, at heart, a janitor.