I Can’t

by Sandy Nelson on April 19, 2012

Our daughter will turn five in July. She is one beautiful, spirited fireball of a young lady.

Since her first days of mobility, she has been willing and eager to try anything new. Not only is she in constant search of new hurdles to traverse, but actually seems to love the process of practice and failure in the search for learning.

A voracious risk taker, she will enthusiastically dive into virtually any opportunity to learn that intrigues her—building physical abilities in ballet, tennis and gymnastics, exploring her creativity in art, fashion and storytelling, learning to read, and, of course, using technology—she is the queen of the iPad, for instance.

Just recently, we have noticed the intrusion of the phrase “I can’t” into her vocabulary. These are not words often spoken or welcomed in our family or home.

Fortunately, she seems to choose them when she is very tired or simply doesn’t want to do something. Nevertheless, we now are fully engaged in a conversation about the limitations produced by saying, “I can’t”.

As my mother used to regularly remind me, to say “I can’t is to say I won’t”. Obviously, this saying is not axiomatic, but there is a lot of truth in it.

So, the questions we are asking are these. Just where is she hearing and learning to use this self limiting concept? How can we most effectively help her see the downside of embracing negativity without negatively impacting her love of trying out the new? Like ballet, fashion, and her other passions, trying new phrases on for size is an important aspect of learning for her.

As we make our way through this process, I recall the many times I have heard members of key teams in legacy cultures now challenged by new economic and competitive realities make similar comments:

“That’ll never happen…”
“Get real…”
“Not the way we do things around here…”
“Are you kidding…”
“Our situation is so unique, we couldn’t possibly…”

Let’s face it. Language is important. Each word and phrase that we choose and use has impact—on ourselves, teammates and others. When we begin conversations with “I can’t”, the outcome is certain.

Think about it.

Sandy Nelson

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