Our writer’s group recently had a discussion about the lament, “I can’t.”
We’ve all said it, but if it’s truly something we want, we usually do find a way to make it happen. Many people have been inspired to act boldly after being told something is impossible, or they aren’t capable, or no one has ever done it before. The best biographies and stories I have ever read are about people who have overcome limitations and proved their critics wrong.
Having someone throw down a gauntlet is often exactly what we need to spur us into motion. Long ago I read about a man with an incredible memory. As a small boy, he overheard his primary school teacher tell his mother he was hopeless, and would never amount to anything. “Your boy can’t read, can’t remember his lessons, and can’t even write his own name properly.”
That fired something up inside him and he vowed to show everyone how wrong that teacher had been. Years later, he became known as Germany’s Memory Man and astounded audiences with his ability to remember every person’s name in the theatre. He was able to quote Tolstoy’s War and Peace in its entirety! Why? Because he told himself over and over that he could.
I’m sure that when my sister reads this, she will recall our mother saying to us, “Don’t say I can’t, say I won’t!”
“But that’s not it!” I would argue. “I really just can’t.”
“But why can’t you do it? Is it too hard? Or, don’t you have time?” She paused for effect. “Or don’t you want to do it badly enough?”
I honestly think that my mother was put on earth to be the Tenth Man in my life. In military strategy, when a group of men agree on a plan of action, a Tenth Man is called in to play the part of the ‘Devil’s Advocate. ‘ The contrariness of this person challenges the other nine and incites them to come up with new and even more successful ideas.
Mom waited for me to answer. “You really can do anything, you know,” she said more softly. “It may take more time or money than you’re willing to spend. You may have to find the tools or the energy, but if you want something badly enough, you CAN make it happen.”
I recall thinking at the time that having her challenge me could be a good thing. “So the question is not can I, but will I or won’t I?”
She smiled. “And once you decide, you’ll be surprised how much easier it can be to accomplish your goal than you thought it would be – as long as you don’t get in your own way.”
We often say things about ourselves, our capabilities or our methods that may have been true at one time, but that we don’t want to be true anymore. Almost as if there is a tape recorder running in our minds (I am showing my age), we repeat statements that are no more than habits. Say you’re tired, and you will be. Say you have no energy, and you’ll stay on the couch. Say you can’t do something, and you will not be able to muster up the wherewithal to do it.
In the 1960s, my father attended a number of business conferences based on a growing movement called Positive Mental Attitude. PMA, as it was known, promoted the idea that attitude is nine-tenths of the battle. Classics such as ‘Think and Grow Rich,” and “The Power of Positive Thinking,” were often quoted in our home. I’ve read them each several times.
One of the most beloved Golden Books of all time was about a little train that showed the advantages of optimism and hard work. The mantra, “I think I can, I think I can…” is a a phrase many of us will remember from our childhood. We would do well to ‘take a page out of that book’ and live it!