Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
All You Can Do Is All You Can Do
By Richard Eyre

Note: This column appears every two weeks . with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time.  Click here to read the full introductory column. Click here to go to the Cliches archives

This clich is often used as an antidote to other clichs that seem unrealistic and create false hopes: “The sky’s the limit,” “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and so on.

Indeed it is good to be realistic, and it can be depressing and harmful always to expect more of ourselves than we actually deliver. So we say, “All you can do is all you can do.”

Yet the things that inspire us most are instances and situations when someone seems to go beyond their natural potential, rise above the expected level, beat the odds.

Most of us, at least in the small, personal, everyday sense, believe in miracles. Love, loyalty, or other emotions sometimes carry us beyond what we though we could do or feel. And in times of supernatural need, most of us believe in the possibility of some form of supernatural help.


I have a special friend, who, over the years, has taught me a great deal about the word synergism. He is a management consultant and trainer, and I first heard him speak of synergism in the business context. He defined the word as a situation where the total is greater than the sum of its parts, where executives or employees, working well together and compensating for one another’s weaknesses, are able to accomplish more together than the combination of what they could accomplish separately.

Later he taught me that as good a word as it was in business, synergism had its most magical application in personal and family life, where marriage partners, supporting and complementing each other, rise to a higher real; where children feel a security and an identity bigger than themselves, where family members, helping and encouraging each other, grow and develop far beyond what they could do by themselves. In that context, synergism is the step we can take toward allowing miracles into our lives.


These are at least three types of synergism that allow us to do more and become more than we otherwise could:

  1. Physical Mental Synergism. The mind and the body can be renewed by each other. When our minds are active, stimulated by new ideas, pulled out of the rut of routine, we are physically renewed, we feel more energy, and we are more resistant to disease. And when we take care of our body – when we eat right and exercise – our mind is quicker, sharper.
  2. Husband-Wife Synergism. Those who are married have the opportunity to create a union in which both partners, buoyed and lifted by each other, go beyond what they could do on their own. Too often we do the opposite. We compete with each other instead of finding ways to complement each other, and we think equality means doing the same things as each other rather than analyzing our individual strengths and weaknesses and figuring out who will play which roles within the family and household.
  3. Divine Synergism. The most powerful form of synergism and the instance when we can go farthest beyond our own potential or capacity is when we draw down into us a high power and greater insight. People who learn to pray, to meditate, to center themselves and exercise faith discover how limited they are by themselves and how unlimited they are with God.

The deeper meaning of synergism is that by ourselves we are limited, but that we can combine ourselves in ways that expand these limits. Combinations within ourselves, within our marriages, and within our spiritual lives can carry us beyond where we though we could be. The ultimate display of synergism is miracles.

People who acknowledge of admit “ceilings” too readily take the excitement and possibility out of their lives. People stop progressing in their careers as soon as they say, “This is as far as I can get,” People start to decline physically as soon as they say, “I’m over the hill.” And discouragement and boredom set in when we say, “Well, realistically I’m never going to be what I once thought I could.”

When our thoughts are bounded by limits, we need the simple new maxim:


The key to rising above our “ceilings” is not some kind of pseudo-pep talk or artificial “positive mental attitude.” It is working at creating synergism in our lives and in our relationships. It is believing in something beyond ourselves.

Join me in another fortnight (in two weeks) for a clich about

the confusion of whether we work to live, or live to work.

2005 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.