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You Can’t Do That

Throughout my life I’ve been told by many people that I can’t accomplish this or that, usually when I’m dreaming way beyond my current position. Going back to my days playing football in middle school, I had so many people that told me playing football beyond high school was not feasible and that I needed to pick a ‘realistic’ career path. I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if I’d had anyone who believed in me.

Josh "Bearheart" Hawk sitting in front of a microphone as the sun lights him up.
Me hosting an online radio program a few years ago.

This whole, ‘you can’t do that’ thing has followed me even into adulthood, though there are a couple of key differences to point out today. For one thing, I no longer care about other people’s opinions on what I can and can’t accomplish and I don’t expect most people to believe in me. The other big thing I have now that I didn’t have then is someone who stands by my side and believes 100% that I can accomplish anything, my amazing wife.

I feel like I should elaborate, at least a little, on that first point.

For a long time, I worried about what others thought. I felt the need to fit in, try and be a part of the group. This was before I found out I have Aspergers and learned some methods to cope with things that caused me issues. I was constantly watching for social cues, and trying to figure out how to make people like me.

This seemed to work well for most of my life, though it held me back from going after things I would have really enjoyed because I didn’t want to risk being the outcast. For instance, the dream of playing college football was sidelined (pun intended) because I felt that if I pushed too hard on it I would be ostracized from my family who kept telling me it wasn’t possible. Football wasn’t the only dream I gave up on though.

For years, I had wanted a guitar and I dreamed of playing music and singing to stadiums full of people. This dream was inspired by my love for country music, and in particular after seeing a Garth Brooks concert that was broadcast on television in 1998. I started writing songs, and eventually got that guitar, but a fear of being laughed at and made an outsider once again caused me to give up.

Anytime I would find myself dreaming too big, my brain would take over and tell me that I shouldn’t be thinking like that and to just focus on getting a ‘real’ job. These thoughts plagued me for years, until I saw a video on YouTube from one of my favorite science channels, talking about mental health and, in particular, this person’s struggle with Aspergers. As the creator talked about what they had gone through for years, I found myself matching their experience almost beat for beat.

Out of curiosity, I took a few different tests from organizations that specialize in Autism and Aspergers as a way to self diagnose. I did this mainly to see if I might be on the spectrum, but also because getting an official diagnosis, especially as an adult, costs a lot of time and money and doesn’t really do much more than a self-diagnosis in terms of any real benefit. Knowing for myself was what was important to me because it allowed me to recognize a problem and find solutions.

Over the years, since figuring this all out, I’ve been able to focus more clearly on my own mental health and make changes to my life that have led to me being happier than I’ve ever been. These changes allowed me to make a giant leap in my career by switching companies and chasing a position with much higher pay, deal with the stress of being laid off, start and grow my own company and just generally handle things as they’ve come at me in a much healthier way.

Now, you might be sitting over there and thinking to yourself “OK, so you can handle things better now, big deal. That’s called life and we all go through it!”. What a lot of people, mainly those who lack empathy or emotional intelligence, don’t understand is that this thing we call ‘life’ is different for everyone and we all have our struggles.

Those things that seem so easy for you, the things that many people learn when they are children, didn’t come easy to me. My whole life was spent observing people, trying to fit in by mimicking what I saw and never truly letting myself soar.

Over the last year and a half, since I was laid off and started my own business, I’ve had many people exit my life. Many of them left without saying a word, a few seemed to be annoyed by the fact that I wasn’t just towing the line by getting another corporate job. In the past, this all would have bothered me and I would have given up before I even started. Now, I focus on doing what I know I am good at and I refuse to let others opinions guide me. I take some solace in the idea that their opinions are usually formed based on their own failed dreams, and the fact that we as humans seem to enjoy watching others fail more than seeing them succeed.

I want to add in here something for those who maybe read this far and think their “words of caution” or other thoughts about the choices of those they love are warranted. It’s understandable to be worried about the people you care about. You want to see them succeed, and you think that deterring them from doing something risky is a way to protect them. The truth is, this reasoning is flawed. If you truly care about someone, you would be more interested in seeing them succeed in something that makes them happy than seeing them miserable but “safe”. If you think there are issues with whatever they’ve decided to do, offer to help in whatever way they need rather than discouraging them from doing it in the first place. Mending a broken wing is a lot more helpful than clipping the wings so they can’t get broken again.

For those chasing “crazy” dreams…

Don’t let the disparaging words of those who’ve long given up on their dream hold you back from achieving what you know you can, and don’t listen to the voices telling you “You can’t do that!”.

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