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The Write or Die Chick: What Oprah Says You Can't Do

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Oprah Winfrey attends Los Angeles premiere of The Butler at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California.
Oprah Winfrey
Photo Credit: Getty Image

“The biggest fallacy on earth is that you can be anything that you want to be. You can only be what you were meant to be.”

That’s not me sayin’ that. That’s an Oprah-ism, and y’all know how you love some Oprah. Don’t shoot the messenger, but Big O says that that whole you-can-do-whatever-you-set-your-mind-to cheer your teachers and parents have been rah-rahing since you wore Velcro-strapped sneakers is a big fib. And in this case, I agree with her.

Sometimes, there’s a difference between your interests, your hobbies and the things you’re nudged awake every morning to ultimately execute. They’re not three in the same. Just because you enjoy something doesn’t make it your calling, and just because you’re academically, professionally or financially invested in something already doesn’t make that your calling either.

If you believe in a higher power, then you’re probably certain that every person has a divinely ordained and uniquely assigned purpose for their lives. No one is born for no reason, and each stage of your and my story has been crafted to lead to the eventual fulfillment of that purpose.

So the time you stalled out and spent a year as a Walmart cashier because you needed a job just to pay the bills may have frustrated you because you wanted to be a singer or a chef or an archeologist, and scanning discounted tube socks at the register wasn’t nothing close to what you planned to be doing with any of your days. Something about that experience contributed to the overall body of knowledge you needed to get to where you wanted to be, though. It’s hard to grasp that in the moment when you’re trudging off to spend X amount of hours entrenched in your own person hell, but it wasn’t for naught.

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I graduated from college, but getting started wasn’t simple. In the process of contributing stories—for free—to any and every outlet that would have me, I needed to make some money. Darn living a dream. Once my student loans came out of deferment, my mom said “Honey, you need a job.” And jobs did I get. I was a substitute teacher. I was a transcriptionist and editor. I worked in a maximum security prison as a medical records clerk.

All the while, I was hungry to be a journalist and wanting to pull my teeth out from the roots every single solitary day I had to get up and go to a 9 to 5 when all I wanted to do was sit at my computer and plunk out sentences. It was something pre-destined, a passion innately implanted in me. But each of those meantime jobs gave me something functional that I still use now, so that when I did get the chance to call myself a writer, I was better at it because of those experiences.

The medical records gig made me ultra-organized and a good note taker. The transcribing and editing position sharpened my typing and listening skills. The substitute teacher stint tested my ability to be in a situation when you want to choke the daylights out of someone but you’re instead forced me to be calm, quick-thinking and reasonably personable. What’s an interview with a hostile business exec or surly rapper when you’ve worked in the Baltimore public school system as a sub? Please.

Not everything we’re doing right now is what we’d prefer to be doing. I’d venture most of us—including me with three exclamation points—are still working up to our big dreams. Meditate on what you should be doing, not just what you think would be great or fun or exciting. Don’t force yourself into a situation that wasn’t supposed to be yours in the first place or, on the flip side, give up on something because you’ve internalized somebody else’s disbelief and adopted it as your own. That’s why it’s important to know for yourself why you’re here, even if the manifestation of it is still on the horizon.

You can’t do anything you put your mind to, like Oprah said. Whoever’s behind that cliché is responsible for wasting a lot of folks’ time and energy, shame on them. But you do have a greater purpose, something only you have the power to do here on earth. That’s an amazing assignment, to know that this one thing can only be done through you. It may not even be just one thing. Folks discover new talents along the way all the time. But just know, even in the midst of your meanwhile, that your path has already been carved out, paved and set aside. You just need to find it and walk it out.

Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.

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