Ability vs. Desire

One of the roles in my new position is advising students in their future. As such I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks talking to each one of my students individually about what they want to do with their life and what they need to do to get where they want.

Now, one of the things that I see (that I never had thought about before this current position) is that a lot of times our desires and our abilities aren’t always matched.

For example, as I teach Chemistry I have a lot of students who consider themselves to be “Pre-Med”. They are on the road to be a Physician. Which includes a major that involves taking a lot of science courses, taking a pretty difficult exam that covers just about all of General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Cell Biology, Microbiology, Zoology and Physics, and then getting accepted to a Medical School. All of which are exceptionally selective.

Medical School isn’t a trivial field to get in to, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point is that just about every science major comes in to their undergraduate career thinking they want to go to Medical School. And for many, while that desire might exist (and strongly so),  the outright ability is lacking.

For instance, I have seen students who work their behinds off in General Chemistry – to get at the end of this hard work a C in the class. And while I applaud their hard work and effort, the fact of the matter is that the simple ability is lacking. This isn’t to say that they are dumb, typically they’re not just in the wrong field for their abilities, it is to say that often times our desires and our abilities are not always in line.

There are 2-3 students in my class who are taking General Chemistry for the second time. Because they failed it the first time and they need a good grade to get in to Medical School. The harsh reality is, if you can’t get an A or a B in General Chemistry the first time around, you probably lack the ability to do the work necessary to be successful in Medical School. As a result, you’re wasting your time, your energy, and your money (tuition ain’t cheap!) on a career path that you aren’t capable of doing.

As I sit and advise these students the best I can (without crushing dreams), a part of me wonders: What have I striven for that I don’t have the ability to achieve? Or am I simply blessed to have the ability to do anything I put my mind to?

An honest, unbiased assessment of who we are and what we’re capable of (without underestimating ourselves) is sometimes necessary to make sure that we don’t waste our resources on fruitless endeavors. And when I think about this, it is true for our career paths, our relationships, any major decision we face.

Many people want to buy houses or cars because they have the desire for them, but not necessarily the ability to pay for them.

We want to date someone because we see a potential to change who they are to be what we want, but no one has the ability to change another person.

Or perhaps even we have the desire to be debt free in a shorter time span than we have the ability to pay off debt. Which then leaves us frustrated and confused (and perhaps even throw up our hands and give up) when we can’t achieve the goal we didn’t even have the ability for in the first place.

Now, I want to make clear, we have greater ability than we know – but often we don’t reach our capacity because we’re not fully invested and dedicated to achieving our desires.

6 thoughts on “Ability vs. Desire

  1. I had a school friend like this: she wanted so badly to be good at the sciences (not for med school particularly, but for some reason I’m not sure of.) In the end she got into osteo and is now almost done with her degree, but it has never come easily to her.

  2. This is actually why I’ve redirected my own career a number of times as I’ve discovered that I had to work exceptionally hard in certain areas just to make par and I wasn’t happy with that. I don’t have ANY issues with working hard at all, but if you have to work that hard just to be mediocre, that’s clearly a marker for how hard you’re going to have to work always, just to maintain. And I’m not a “just maintain” kind of woman.

    Occasionally I wonder if I made a mistake because I was “a quitter” but then I realized: I work my butt off in my chosen profession NOW, and I do pretty well at it. I don’t make a 6 figure income because it’s not, for example, a hard science, but that doesn’t invalidate the career or job itself. There’s nothing wrong with choosing goals that you can accomplish, especially if they still require that you work hard to achieve them.

    1. Hehehe… But I’m IN a hard science and I don’t make 6-figures!!! 😉

      That said, I think some people don’t realize their potential and do quit. But like you mentioned, if you’re working your butt off to just be average (or slightly less than) your talents are probably elsewhere. =)

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