Thoughts by Richard Bleil
They asked me to be in their Dungeons and Dragons game. I don’t know how much you know about D&D, but you get to choose everything about your character, including their function. Are they a fighter that just swings a sword and takes damage? Are they a bard whose presence encourages better performance? Are they a priest who helps with healing? When they asked me to be in their game, I wanted to be a wizard who fights with magic. But they told me I cannot be a wizard because the other players wanted to be wizards as well. Ironically, once we started, all of the other players changed their minds.
In high school, one of my “friends” (not really, but we were at least friendly towards each other) asked me what I wanted to be. I said I wanted to be a chemist. He laughed and said I cannot be a chemist. When my own sister had two boys, early on I visited them and being myself, she told me I cannot be their “fun uncle”, because they already have a “fun uncle”. Set up on a blind date, my friends told me to be myself, but I can’t be myself because I’m too nerdy.
I cannot begin to tell you how sick I am of being told what I can’t be. Every time I’m told I can’t be something, in essence I’m being told that I can’t be who I am. Do you want to know a secret? I could have been the wizard (they truly needed once since they had none). I am a chemist and a damned successful one at that. I am “fun”, as an uncle or otherwise. And if I’m not good enough on a date, the issue is not me, but us. If I’m too nerdy, all it means is that we are not a good match, and it’s better to figure that out earlier.
In our society, we have a habit of pre-judging each other. All too often I’ve had ideas and dreams shot down, by my friends, by my family, by strangers who may (or may not) mean well, but still have a habit of deciding without giving me a chance. We do this frequently. You cannot be a rock star do you have any idea how many people are trying to be rock stars? You cannot be an actor; do you know how tough the competition is? You cannot be what you dream because you’re, what, not good enough? Not rich enough? Not smart enough? How many dreams have been destroyed by well-intentioned people who just don’t want you to be hurt when you fail? But never do they ask, what if you succeed?
Twice I’ve had ideas for tech products, and twice I’ve been told it’ll never work, only to read about the same idea being the next major technological wonder a couple of decades later. What would have happened if, instead, those I shared the ideas with had brainstormed with me and encouraged me?
Maybe I would have failed. That’s fair. Maybe I would not have been smart or techy enough to make my ideas work. The issue, though, is not if I could have succeeded or not, but rather how I was pre-judged and talked out of trying. Today, I’m old, I’m tired, and I have no pride. If I want to do something, I just do it. I’ll be honest; I wish I had this kind of courage when I was younger.
Here’s an odd thing that will seem unrelated, but if you’ll stick with me, I’ll explain. Boys, pretty much all boys, are ashamed of their genitals in middle and high school. We get erections far too easily, and always at the wrong time, and every time we are afraid somebody will see. But honestly, who cares? The truth is that such erections, that shame us endlessly, are very common and very healthy, and maybe, just maybe, the girls we really want to hide them from would like to see them. After all, they’re curious too.
But every boy is ashamed and afraid to show themselves as they really are. Dreams are the same. It seems like most of us are afraid of our dreams, and fear being shamed if we allow them to be seen. Are we afraid people will laugh? So what? Let them laugh. That simply means that they are ashamed that they, too, have dreams.
I wish I knew then what I know now. When people tell you that you cannot be something, achieve something, or accomplish something, it seems to me that there are two good ways to handle it. One, ignore them. They don’t know what you are capable of accomplishing. In fact, you don’t know what you can accomplish until you try. Or, use it as fuel. They say that you cannot, so prove them wrong. You got this.