Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eliminating "I Can't"

To the outside world, my husband and I probably look like crazy idiots.

On paper, we don’t exactly look like geniuses. At the end of 2008, I quit my full-time job to focus my attention entirely on my writing. He works a full-time job that barely covers our basic necessities while going to college in the evening to pursue a degree in Environmental Science. We also have a huge mortgage, student loan debt, and will probably add a child to the mix before the degree is finished and the novel is published.
We know we’re crazy. But, around the same time, he and I both experienced some revelations. We figured out exactly what we wanted and we knew we wouldn’t be happy unless we tried our best to get there. We know we’re taking huge risks and we’re well aware of what could happen if either of us- or both of us- fails.
The thing is, both of us are well aware that, even if everything comes crashing down around us, we’ll still have each other. That’s all either of us really needs. We love our nice house, but we’d still be happy if we had to share a studio apartment. The things we are pursuing we’d enjoy doing regardless of the income. That’s how we know they are, undoubtedly, what we’re meant to do.
The biggest change came when both of us decided to eliminate one phrase from our vocabulary: “I can’t.”
Each of us grows up hearing that there are things we simply can’t do. We were born into poverty, so we can’t be rich. Our parents didn’t go to college, so we won’t be able to afford it. We have kids, so we can’t take any risks. We have health problems, so we can’t lose weight. We’ve had failed relationships, so we’ll never find love. Whatever the situation, there are a million reasons why we can’t be our best selves.
The world is full of “I can’t” people. But it’s also full of people who have overcome great adversity to become extremely successful people. If each of them discouraged themselves by saying “I can’t,” we wouldn’t have the scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs we have today. We’d have a world of mediocrity.
I’m not saying everyone should quit their dead-end jobs today or go to the gym and not leave until they’ve lost 30 pounds. Change doesn’t happen overnight. While my husband and I are still young, it took us years of saying “I can’t” before we said, “Why not?” It took us even longer to figure out the best course of action for pursuing our dreams without losing everything. Still, every day, we both learn more. It’s a process. Nothing is guaranteed, but we would both rather give it our all and fail than spend our lives working unsatisfying jobs, wondering what might have been. While we’re well aware of the worst case scenarios, we are choosing not to dwell on them and instead focusing on making sure everything we’re working for happens.

I was the last person I ever expected to eliminate “I can’t” from my vocabulary. It used to be my favorite expression! But I believe that we’re products of our environments, and in recent years I’ve filled my life with some pretty successful friends. I’ve seen my friend Sydney earn two degrees while working full-time, produce an entire fashion show with very little help and become a successful freelance fashion writer almost the instant she tried. To the outsider, it looks like everything she touches turns to gold, but I see how hard she words to make sure her dreams come true. I’ve watched my friend Marie, who comes from a very broken home and could easily have gone down the same path, earn a graduate degree and have a loving, successful marriage. I’ve seen my friend Melanie successfully pursue every single endeavor she tries with a smile on her face.
These ladies (not to mention the MANY people I know who I’m not even mentioning right now) have something in common. They don’t use the phrase “I can’t.” Instead, they ask themselves, “How can I make this happen?” And then, negativity be damned, they do it. For years, these friends would tell me that I was capable of anything and finally, I was ready to listen. With so many positive, successful people in my life, it was bound to rub off on me eventually.
Here are some of my favorite tips from eliminating “I can’t” from your vocabulary:

1) Instead of saying “I can’t,” ask yourself, “How can I?” One of the first things I learned about the Law of Attraction was never to say “I can’t afford it.” I know there are things I am unable to run out and buy right now. I also know that, if I give myself time and look for money-making and money-saving opportunities, I’ll have a much better shot of being able to buy it eventually. The same is true with other things in life. Don’t say “I can’t lose weight.” Tell yourself you can, one step at a time. Start by cutting back on junk food and then make time for exercise. Whatever your goal is, make a plan and try to stick to it.

2) Surround yourself with positive people. I cannot stress this enough. I have cut out the negative friends from my life and surrounded myself with people who encourage me, support me, and want happiness both for themselves and for others. It has made all the difference in the world. People who like being unhappy have no place in my life, and I’ve never been happier.

3) Focus on what you want, not what you don’t. I struggle with this. It’s human nature to think, “What if?” But have you ever repeatedly thought, “I hope this doesn’t happen…” and then it does? Instead of saying, “I can’t get sick” tell yourself you’ll stay healthy and take care of yourself so that you will. Instead of thinking that you hope you don’t screw up a job interview, focus on how well you’re going to do. I used to think this advice was crap. Then I tried it. It works. This is me, admitting to the internet that I was wrong.

4) Be your own biggest cheerleader. This was, by the far, the hardest thing for me to overcome. But if you speak poorly about yourself long enough, not only do you believe it, others will start to believe it too. Besides, celebrating the small victories is so much fun. It can be something as simple as a bubble bath when you’ve reached your writing goal of the day or, my favorite, a deep tissue massage after a week of not missing a workout.

5) Be a cheerleader for others, too. When you see someone struggling, try and lift them up with an encouraging compliment. Not only will you make their day, you’ll be reminded of the impact encouragement has on your own attitude.

Crazy idiots that we are, my husband and I both know that, at the end of our lives, we’ll get some satisfaction in knowing that we at least tried. Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if everyone eliminated “I can’t” from their vocabularies and focused their attention on what they can do. The older I get, the more I realize that each of us is capable of accomplishing great things if we really try. Nobody is perfect, and we all have days where we let negativity and setbacks get us down. Fortunately, for most of us, the sun will rise again and we’ll have another chance to prove to ourselves that we can. There may be a million reasons why you think you can’t do something, but don’t we all deserve to make the most of this crazy beautiful life?


Just Jenny said...

I am guilty of using "I can't" more often than anyone really should. Oddly enough, your post comes at a crucial time in my life and I was just thinking that I really need to stop screwing around and stop being scared of following my dreams. Thanks for the great post!

JessicaLee said...

Jenny, I don't have to know you personally to know that you are an intelligent, hilarious, gorgeous, sweet person who is capable of anything (and has excellent taste of who she follows on Twitter). Follow those dreams. :)

Kim said...

I am now eliminating "I can't" from my vocab. Thank you!

jessicabold said...

Growing up, that phrase was not allowed in the house. If we said it, we had to replace it with an "I can" statement....

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. We always have ourselves...and each other. You have a great head on your shoulders. :)

Anj (aka writergrrl) said...

I love the fact that one of my mentor's is younger than me! ;-) This post is a perfect mix of inspiration and practical know-how...thanks for reminding me that the biggest hurdle I face is often my own attitude. You rock!

JessicaLee said...

You guys are going to make me cry. Lucky for you, I like happy crying. ;) Thank you times a million!

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