Who Says That You Can't?

If you are honest with yourself, it is probably you. This is my challenge to you today.  Choose not to buy into the message that you cannot do what it is that you really want to do (I am assuming here that what you want to do doesn’t involve hurting yourself or hurting others – if that is the case than don’t read a word further – go to your nearest hospital for help!).  It doesn’t matter who that messenger is, ignore the message, and for ONE DAY live with the attitude and belief that everything you want is doable.

Photo courtesy of Sharleen Hoar
Photo courtesy of Sharleen Hoar

Last week I was facilitating a high performance athlete retreat with an accomplished group of female skiers.  It was evening, and we were sharing inspiring stories.  I shared with them a story I had heard while listening to TED talks. I realize that most of the TED talks are meant to be inspiring, but in my top 5 is the talk given by activist Caroline Casey.  Caroline Casey, TED Talk: Looking Past Limits Her story is appropriately called “Looking Past Limits” and she recounts how she found herself walking her elephant, Mobly, across the Sahara Dessert raising money and awareness for people with disability.  But the riding across the Sahara Dessert on an elephant isn’t what inspires me about Caroline’s story.  What is inspiring to me is that Caroline’s parents never told her (or labeled her) to have a disability. Caroline recounts learning for the very first time that she was legally blind on her 16th birthday.  She was born blind and didn’t know what ‘being blind’ meant.  She never grew up having sight so she didn’t know what she had been missing. This story absolutely fascinates me because I wonder how much I would be able to accomplish if I didn’t know that I, too, had limiting factors: I’m too short, too overweight, not smart enough, ….

As human’s we are hard wired to psychologically need to be competent (defined as exert our will onto our environment). Children, however, cannot determine competency on their own. Decades of research clearly state that a child learn to understand whether he or she can or cannot achieve something.  The way that significant others in our life respond to a child’s attempts to exert themselves on his or her environment provides a powerful interpretation regarding the success of the child.

Take for an example, a 4 year old’s first hockey game.  Playing hockey is quite complicated and requires a number of skills: skating, stick handling, making contact with a puck, having the power and strength to hit a puck in the direction desired, ect.  As adults, what is success and competency for that 4-year-old? What is it that you would respond to and celebrate? Is it being on a winning team? Is it the goal that the child scored? Is it playing well with others and following the rules of the game? Is it helping a teammate up when he fell? Is it the effort that the 4 year old brings to the game that day?  The point is that what we respond to and celebrate for the child is what he/she interprets as competency.  The child learns that competency = winning, if the adult celebrates winning more enthusiastically than trying hard.

These early competency experiences shapes the later motivation and beliefs that an adult has about what she can and cannot do.  The difference between the child and the adult however, is choice.  As an adult you can choose to change beliefs. You can choose to change motivation.  You can define for yourself what you can and cannot do.  You do not have to be limited by your early experiences.

Again, here is my challenge. Dare to live today with the attitude (and belief) that anything and everything is possible.  I’m going to. I’m determined to NOT be the one who limits my potential today.

“Never say that you can't do something, or that something seems impossible, or that something can't be done, no matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware to this: absolutely anything in the world is possible.”  (Mike Norton).