The “What Is Stopping You?” Mentality

An open letter to all my friends who have ever asked me “what’s stopping you?” when it came to what I want to do and where I want to go with my life.

Dear friends,

Can you not?

Okay, sorry, that was probably a little bit… harsh? I’m sure it came off that way. I’m just so incredibly frustrated by your idea that the only boundary in my life is myself. I’m sure you’re trying to help. To motivate me to follow my dreams on a cloud made of stars. But honestly? That’s all that you’re selling me. A cloud made of stars. No substance.

For example, let’s look at the “what’s stopping you?” of my “I want to travel the world.” Firstly, there’s the matter of money. Have you ever bought a plane ticket before? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, they don’t come cheap. I am paying a hospital bill, a credit card that was used to pay off a second hospital bill, a monthly medical premium, and two student loans. On top of that, literally half of every single paycheck I bring home goes to pay my rent. That doesn’t leave me with a hell of a lot of travel money, does it? Plus, if I take time off work to travel, I’m losing income that I need to pay for the aforementioned expenses.

And to those who have told me “just hitchhike!”, please consider the fact that I have the body of a woman. It is more than likely that I will be one people who mysteriously go missing.

Okay, so what about what I actually want to do with my life? Well, the main goal right now is to open a photography studio, take portraits, sell my artistic stuff. Know what that requires? Money, and good credit, both of which I’m trying to build up. It also requires that I have a stable, consistent income, but in order to run my studio, I’d have to quit my current job, thereby waving my current income goodbye. Bit of a catch 22, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, I could start small, you say; set up an online presence, encourage people to schedule sessions and buy my photography over the internet. Except, wait, I have done that. I have not seen a single session for it, and the only sale I’ve ever made was from my best friend, who wanted a way to support me. The only people who actively buy art are people with a lot of money and a lot of wall space. And those people usually have children (like yourselves, the ones who were taught that your only boundaries were yourselves) that they’d rather have pictures of on their walls.

The “What’s Stopping You” Mentality is for people with money. It is for people who don’t have to worry about where the money to do these things is coming from, and what they’re going to do if they fail. And they’re usually saying it to people who don’t have money, who do have to worry about what they’ll do if they fail. If you look at someone who is struggling to make ends meet, who has all these dreams that they might someday achieve with the right help and planning, and you tell them “what is stopping you,” you’re a douche, and I dare you to sit in their financial situation for a month. Because money is stopping them.

I’m sure you think you’re being supportive. That you’re telling them they can achieve their dreamy clouds made of stars if they just think happy thoughts. Just believe in themselves. As I recall, Peter Pan had the same advice for flying, but in order to fly, you know what you actually needed? Pixie dust. Money is the pixie dust of this situation.

Even if it isn’t about money, it’s can still be a pretty insensitive way to motivate people. Let’s say I wanted to get better at drawing. If you told me “what’s stopping you?”, I’d have a laundry list. I don’t have a computer tablet anymore, meaning I can’t do digital artwork, which is what I was best at. If I were going to do traditional art, I would need new supplies; the pencils I have right now are old with crap erasers, I don’t have a sketch book, and really, I ought to get some kind of art lessons. That’s what’s stopping me. “What’s stopping you” is the laziest attempt to motivate someone that you could possibly pull.

There are other ways to support people and their dreams! Totally awesome, wonderful ways. Tell them you support them. If and when they make progress, be excited for them. Ask if there is anything you can feasibly do to help. If they have a social media outlet that they use, suggest it to others. And continue letting them know that you’re behind them, and you’re rooting form them.

As always, feel free to leave thoughts, feelings, questions, and angry rants in the comments!


3 thoughts on “The “What Is Stopping You?” Mentality

  1. I understand everything you’ve said here. I know that a lot of things in life require money. Here is my counter-argument:

    My girlfriend’s father had children early and wanted to provide for them. So he took a job as a car salesman. He worked long hours (usually 9-7 every day, even weekends) because, like you said, life requires money. Especially when you have responsibilities, in your case your rent, in his case the mortgage and expenses to raise children and send them to college. He always talked about the vacations they would take when they got out from under the mortgage and the lifestyle they would have when he finished paying for his daughters’ education. And then, at 52, he died suddenly of a heart attack.

    Now there is no chance for him to enjoy life because he spent so much of his time accumulating money so that he could enjoy it. My point is that there are things you can do to prepare for the future WHILE you do what you want in the present. It’s about balance between stoicism (preparing for the future) and epicureanism (enjoying and living in the present).

    Again, your arguments are all valid, but what if, and I would never wish this on you or anyone, you died sometimes next week? Then all of the things that you wanted to do will never be done. You’ll never have the chance to experience what you wanted to because there was so much time spent preparing to be able to do it.

    I can help you. Email me: I want you and everyone else to live the lives they want and deserve :)


    • Most of your argument is lost on me, because I struggle with the concept of mortality. But as it is, it’s not like I’m not enjoying my life; I am. I spend a lot of my time with friends, playing games, partaking in hobbies, etc. I am still living life to the fullest, I just have an issue when the only thing people can say to try and help or motivate me or others is “well, what’s stopping you?”

      I will get there someday. And if I don’t, I don’t. I’ll be dead. I won’t be able to regret not doing the things I want to do because the dead have no regrets.

      Nonetheless, thank you for reading and sharing your story. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • True, but don’t you want those experiences? I feel like it’s kind of silly to write it off and say, “if I don’t get the things in life I want it won’t matter because I’ll be dead.” I’d just hate to see that thought blossom into complacency. But as long as you’re working toward it as best as you can and enjoying the present while you do it, I think that’s great. The problem with him was that he wasn’t enjoying the present, he was working solely for the future. Again, it’s a balancing act. I wish you luck, and if you’d like some help, let me know :)


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