"I can't do it"

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You can't?

Are you sure can't is the word you should be using?

I've been thinking about how often people say can't the past couple weeks. It's also discussed in REWORK, which I just finished on Thursday, in the essay titled "four letter words", and then today Seth Godin's post Yes we Can had me thinking about it again.

You'll hear people use the word can't about their work, themselves, and their lives all the time. It's too bad, because understanding that we're almost always making choices, allows you to gain a lot of control over you life while also being a lot happier about the choices you've made. Just as importantly, it helps to keep a clear perspective by recognizing when you truly can't do something.

Any time I'm about to say I can't, I try to find what choice it is that I'm really making. And not necessarily because I think this will allow me to make a better decision, though it sometimes does, but because I just feel trapped if I say I can't do something.

Now, I'm not perfect at this, and the "can'ts" still slip through now and then, but I strive not to say it. Because if I can't do something, then I'm not really free, and that is terrible.

Almost always, the word can't can be replaced with "I choose not to _____ because _____"

You can't fly? Or you choose not to go extreme skydiving because you are afraid it might kill you?

You can't sing? Or you choose not to go to open mic night because you might be embarrassed or people might laugh at you?

You can't speak another language? Or you've chosen not to spend your time learning French?

Some people must feel more comfortable by saying can't - otherwise I suppose we wouldn't hear it said so often. If you can't do something, then you're not responsible are you? If you can't do something, then you don't have to embrace what you can do, which is really just the choice you made. Instead, you can just get mad and blame your situation - but not yourself.

That mindset is just a frustrating trap so I try to avoid it at all costs.

When you recognize the choices you've made, then you can really embrace them and give them your all. This also makes it so you're not bummed out about what you "can't" do.

You can't take a year off of work? Or you want a nice home to live in with a steady job? It's fine if you want that steady job! Just stop saying you can't do something else because that means you're not taking responsibility for, and embracing, the choices you've made.

The other benefit of looking at things this way is that you recognize how important it is to maintain a proper perspective on things.

I can't stop the affect the internet will continue to have on the world (nor would I want to) so I choose to do things differently than I did before. I can't stop my children from growing up, so I choose to embrace the - literal - writing on the wall while they're toddlers. I can't bring back loved ones that I've lost, so I truly embrace the time I do have with my friends and family.

What can't you do?

Are you sure about that?

With this in mind, I wanted to give you an update on the first follower dance party project. If you've been following it - which is best summarized in this fantastic drawing by Simon Fowler, one of people participating in the project - I've decided that I'm going to use it to try my hand at programming.

What? A project manager that wants to try to learn some programming. Yep. As I told the rest of the group in the project space, I feel lately as if my ideas have been imprisoned by my inability to actually make them real on my own. I'm using this project as an excuse to try something I've been putting off for too long.

It would be really easy for me to say I can't develop the website I'm thinking of. Or I can't afford to hire a few people to do this. Or I can't find the time.


I don't want to spend the money on hiring a developer, I'd rather try to do it myself. I don't know Ruby on Rails, so I'm going to get tutoring from Jeff Cohen of Purple Workshops so that I can learn it as quickly as possible. This project is a priority, so I'm going to put the necessary time and effort into it.

Can I really develop a web application that's my twist on this idea from Andrew Dubber? We'll find out.

It ships on May 1st.