I can ‘t

No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.

— Tony Robins

ID-10053189 mistakes.jpg
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The words I can’t are the most self-defeating words in our language.

I abhor them.

Having used them myself on multiple occasions, and disliking myself for it afterwards, I believe I have the right to express such strong feelings about them.

If you say you can’t do something, then of course it will be true because if you think you can’t, then you won’t. And if you don’t, then you have zero chance of achieving success.

A particular family member has, over the years, increasingly uttered that she can’t do something. At the current time the can’t is attributed to age, as in ‘I’m too old to learn new things.’ That is absolute rubbish and I’ve told her so … and gotten into trouble for my opinion.

The fact I believe I can’t is often code for I don’t want to is something I have wisely kept to myself in these situations.

My personal trainer will confirm my frequent use of I can’t when what I really mean is, ‘My arms/legs are tired and what you are asking me to do is hard work and I don’t enjoy it one little bit so I don’t really want to do another five (burpees/chin-ups/jump squats …).’ I am waiting for the day when he accepts my plea; this day will never arrive and for that I am thankful.

Two knee dislocations — both times on the left knee with the patella dislodging itself and relocating to the back of my knee-joint — affords me the perfect excuse to use I can’t. What I really mean in these instances is either, ‘I don’t want to and I have the perfect excuse because people go white when I tell them what could happen to my knee’, or, ‘I really am petrified I will dislocate my knee again, so even though I could probably do said activity, my fear is overriding the knowledge that I will most likely be fine.’

I used the former meaning ad nauseam with my P.E. teacher in Years 9 and 10. My first knee dislocation occurred in the first term of Year 9, so that gave me two years of playing to this teacher’s sympathy whenever we were doing something I didn’t want to do. How she didn’t wonder why I could do certain things, like tennis, but not do football is beyond me … or maybe she couldn’t be bothered arguing.

The latter meaning of I can’t is the one that stops me from doing things now. Fear is debilitating.

The other thing I have found to be debilitating is perfectionism.

I am a perfectionist. I know this. I really, really hate making mistakes. I would go as far to say the idea of making a mistake, or failing is something I fear. The catch is, as I teacher I know (and advocate) the importance of making mistakes in order to learn; but I find it extremely difficult to practise what I preach.

I live in a state of conflict when I encourage my students, who aren’t trying, to give the activity a go and not be afraid of making mistakes. I see myself in these kids; it frustrates me and makes me feel sad at the same time. In recent years though, I have started being more open. I now talk to these children about how I missed out on doing things because I was so paralysed by the fear of failing or being seen to make a mistake. A lot of the time it works. Empathy is a great teacher — if students know you have ‘been there, done that’ and had the same struggles, they are more likely to try.

Exposing this flaw in my character, my need to be perfect at everything I do, reminds me of a recent foray into the world of crochet.

I am not a particularly crafty person when it comes to sewing, knitting or other forms of needlework. I am able to sew on a button — really well! But I generally take other forms of mending or clothing adjustment to my mother or someone else to whom I am happy to pay for a ‘simple’ hemming job.

My dragon boating team had organised a social afternoon where we would sit, talk, eat and crochet (a head warmer in our team colours).

‘Crocheting is so much easier than knitting,’ were the words that sucked me in. I knitted the band of a jumper once. It took me months. My mother finished it. Maybe, I thought, I will be able to learn to crochet.

I was so determined to conquer this … until I arrived and had instant difficulty casting on (or whatever it’s called when you get all the stitches on to the needle). My fingers had suddenly quadrupled in size, I couldn’t see the hook at the end of the crochet needle, I dropped the wool, I lost the stitches … I can’t do this!

I gave up in the first five minutes.


Perfectionism. I was making mistakes and I hated it.

The other issue confronting me on the day was probably a lack of patience. I really have no interest in sitting around for ages with a needle and thread, or wool, waiting for something to grow. In this sense I can’t is best translated as, ‘I am not interested … I have no patience for this activity … it does not give me instant gratification.’

The question I have to ask myself though is what came first … the lack of interest or the dislike of making mistakes? Did the fact I wasn’t instantly good at it cause my lack of interest … or did my lack of interest make me less resilient to making mistakes?

Most of the ladies on our social crochet afternoon persevered. Some of them finished their head warmers, some of them made slow and steady progress, some of them did only slightly more than me (slightly more of zilch isn’t much) … but all of them were way ahead of me.

I accept that. I said I can’t, so of course I couldn’t … and I didn’t get my lovely red-head warmer. Mind you, I haven’t seen too many of these crocheted head warmers in the boat either, apparently they were a bit itchy. No excuses though … I didn’t persevere and am slightly annoyed with myself for that, but not too much.

Reading through this post just now, to check for mistakes, I am suddenly assailed with images of Mr Bean.

The first that comes to mind is the scene where he is sitting an exam, but gives up in frustration at having studied for the wrong thing — only to realise, in the last minute, he hasn’t removed all test papers from the packet. Instead of working methodically through the test paper he did have, slow and steady, he tries all sorts of cheating tactics before giving up.

Then, I realised this may be the only example of Mr Bean giving up. If you think of his other exploits — packing his too small suitcase, getting changed on the beach, getting out of the parking station without having paid, eating a lollie in church and so on — you see he makes mistakes and makes slow progress, but eventually he succeeds. He is perseverant; dysfunctional, but he never stops trying.


One thought on “I can ‘t

  1. Mmmmmm ……much food for thought, Kellie. Just looking at the image at the top of the blog reminded me:
    ‘No-one is perfect – that’s why pencils have erasers.’ Also, another quote jumps out in my mind: ‘You never know what you can do unless you try.’
    I agree with your thinking that the word ‘can’t’ is a word that is often difficult with which to come to terms. I often am guilty of saying, ‘I can’t…..’ particularly with something I am nowhere near the perfection mark, especially with regard to tasks demanding fine motor control as in sewing and knitting. The word ‘can’t’ is used by me more often than not as an avoidance strategy.
    Nevertheless, with increasing years, I find myself readily answering challenges and ‘giving them a go’. I must admit, that I often surprise myself and give myself a ‘pat on the back’. This is particularly true with Science, Logic, Maths and Critical Thinking.
    A few more quotes are worth reflection and reading between the lines:
    ‘Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.’

    ‘You can’t go through life quitting everything. If you’re going to achieve anything you’ve got to stick with something.’

    ‘I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.’

    ‘If your dreams turn to dust, vacuum!!
    AND…. perhaps my favourite:

    ‘Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!!’

    ‘Goals’ do not like the word ‘can’t’ ….’Never, never, never give up!!!! ‘



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