A few weeks ago, I caught Toy Story on TV. I haven’t seen it in at least fifteen years, and obviously it holds up brilliantly. But I forgot – or as a kid, didn’t notice – the intense shifts in belief and self-doubt that Buzz Lightyear goes through. And it occurred to me that really, we’re all Buzz Lightyear.
Because we all remember a time in our lives when we believed we could do anything. Whatever we dreamed of, it could be ours. We were the Buzz who comes straight out of the box. Believing so firmly in our own ideas of destiny that there was simply no other way life could go except exactly the way we pictured it. I still remember thinking that anything was possible. Wanting to be an Olympic figure skater before the teacher quietly pulled my parents aside and suggested that I would be better suited to something in which I displayed a more “natural talent”. Wanting to be a ballerina or a photographer or an explorer or any other number of things that kids decide they want to be before the world (or in the case of my figure skating, athletic ability) told them no.
Do you remember the first time someone told you no when you told them what you dreamed of doing? Maybe the word itself didn’t come out, but something like “Oh honey, that’s not realistic”, or “Maybe you should try something else”, or – perhaps most often as you took your first steps into the real world – “That will never make you any money.” We get used to ‘no’. We adjust our expectations of ourselves to ‘no’. We become the Buzz who realizes that he isn’t the only Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, but one of thousands. Millions, even. We come to the terrifying realization that maybe we’re not as special as we though. As worthy. As talented. As deserving of good things.
And that, as Buzz Lightyear could tell you, is a lie. We are one of millions (billions, in fact), but we are still the only one of us who is, well, us. The only model with our SKU. Buzz needs to get torn down so his false belief in himself can turn into real belief. Belief born out of hearing ‘no’, asking the tough questions, realizing that things aren’t as rosy as they seem but being willing to carry on anyway. That new sense of belief comes from the determination to succeed, not the assumption that success is freely given.
By the end of Toy Story, Buzz has his self-confidence back, and arguably he’s better off for the struggles that he went through. Because confidence that has never been tested is a fragile thing. Confidence that is born out of challenges and hard questions and even harder answers is more difficult to shake when the next struggle or moment of doubt comes down the line.
We are all Buzz Lightyear. We can all go to infinity and beyond. We just have to get over a few hurdles first.