My entire life people have been telling me what I can’t do. When I was diagnosed with SMA a doctor told my parents, “Scott won’t live past 3 years old.” I am 27. Another doctor said a few years later, “Oh, Scott can’t go to public school. There are too many germs.” I went to public school for 13 years and graduated my class valedictorian. Almost everyone in my life said, “Scott, you won’t be able to live away from home. It will be too hard to arrange and too expensive.” I have been living on my own for almost a decade now, and it has not cost me a dime. These examples are just a few of the reasons that I decided a long time ago, that I am done with “can’t.”
I think the limitations that this word can impose on you are perfectly illustrated in the following story from my own life. When I was 15 years old, I got very sick with pneumonia, and after a long series of events including collapsed lungs and respiratory failure, I ended up with a tracheostomy (the plastic tube in my throat). When you first get a trache tube, especially after a major respiratory infection like I had, they leave the trache tube open so that air can get directly to your lungs to make breathing easier. A byproduct of this however is that air never gets to the vocal cords, which means that you cannot speak. Now, imagine for a second, waking up from several days of drug induced sleep and not being able to speak. I’m guessing, that you would freak out, just like I did. I kept thinking, “I can’t talk. How can I live as a disabled person and not be able to speak?” After I struggled with this notion for a couple days, my surgeon came into my hospital room. He said to me, “Scott, I need you to tell me how you are feeling.” I mouthed the words “I can’t.” He looked at me and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. You need to be capped.” I had no idea what that meant, but he reached into his pocket and placed a small, purple plastic cap onto the tip of my trache tube. He then said, “Speak!” After two days of not talking, two words sprang from my lips clear as a bell, “I can’t.” I’m sure realize, as did everyone in the room, the irony there. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room upon hearing those words. Myself, my parents, even the nurses were overcome with emotion at hearing my voice. A voice we all thought was gone forever. In an instant, I went from “I can’t” to “I can.” I went from never being able to speak again to becoming a professional speaker.
After living that story, I firmly believe that having that word in your vocabulary is more toxic than any disease. It robs you of your freedom to do what you want. Because “I can’t” so quickly turns into “I’ll never be able to,” and then you have been robbed of ever doing that activity. The real kicker, and the thing that I try to get across in my Roll Models talks, is that “can’t” is completely a product of your own perspective. If I see a set of stairs leading to the entrance of a building, from that perspective, I “can’t” get inside. If I then go to the other side of the building, and I find a ramped entrance, then from that perspective, I “can” get into the building. Has anything changed other than my own perspective of the building? No.
In order to get rid of this cancerous growth on the English language, you need to start approaching obstacles in your life differently. Do not think, “Can I do this?” because one possible answer is, “No. I can’t.” Why ask a question that can immediately shut you down? Instead, try thinking, “What is stopping me from being able to do this?” This is a better question, because it gives you more information (your obstacles) and cannot be answered with the word, “can’t,” which means you can keep moving forward. From there you continue asking yourself more information seeking questions with open-ended answers until you accomplish your goal (I give detailed instructions in my Roll Models talks and workshops).
You will be amazed at how much more full your life will become simply by eliminating this one, little word from your daily vocabulary. You may even find yourself starting to question some of those things you already think you “can’t” do, and think of ways that you “can” do them. Just remember, the only difference between “I can’t” and “I can” is gaining a little perspective. As always, I would love to hear of anyone’s experience trying this method, so please comment and share your story with me.