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Can't? Or Won't?

Updated on February 19, 2014

When I was growing up, my mother and step-father never let me or my sister say "I can't" to any situation or thing. If we did happen to say that phrase, our parents would always respond with "'Can't' never did anything". The point was to never give up and that tenacity pays off with lessons learned. They tried to teach us that we could do anything, as long as we maintained the right mindset and remained persistent. My step-father ingrained into me and my sister that, if there remains a will to accomplish something, there will always be a way to accomplish something.

As an adult and Navy veteran, I have kept this lesson with me. I tend to be more tenacious than others. I absolutely refuse to let anything defeat me, if it is something that I truly and deeply wish to achieve. While in the Navy, no workcenter supervisor, Leading Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer or Division Officer wanted to hear that a sailor "couldn't" do something. No matter how small or large the task can be, the military is very much "results driven". If a sailor is incapable of doing something alone, he/she should request assistance. One of the primary duties of petty officers and Chiefs is to help junior sailors learn to overcome obstacles. If a sailor is tenacious in attitude about not being tenacious in tasks, it will be reflected in his/her periodic evaluations, and therefore, it can prevent him/her from advancing in rank.

In one of my jobs after the Navy, I worked hard enough at getting results that my chain of command rewarded me with a supervisory position. Actually, my Program Manager utilized my skills for a dual role. I supervised my production team, and I assisted him in a number of administrative tasks. There wasn't anything in that job that I couldn't do, because I refused to say "I can't", even if I had never attempted certain tasks before and was confused at first. I wouldn't let anything get the better of me, and that is how I led my team. I refused to hear "I can't". I instructed. I taught. I advised, and when I needed to, I shoved, shouted and even used my 6-foot-2 (almost 6'4" in my boots) and 260 lb. size to intimidate my guys to be more tenacious. I just refuse to hear "I can't".

(Note about the video: I just wanted to add that I was not a SEAL. However, I found Mr. Rutherford's comments and advice in his video to be perfectly in line with the point that I am trying to make here, especially with the two points of believing in yourself and not whining.)

"I Can't" Means "I Won't"

I can't win; so I won't compete.
I can't succeed; so I won't try.
I can't finish on time; so I won't start.
I can't understand; so I won't (or don't) care.

On the flip-side, I also abhor hearing "you can't". No one should ever tell me that I can't do something, because I will put myself through pain and torture to prove that person wrong. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not a lawbreaker nor do I disregard rules and regulations of the job ... much. (no more than any other person). My thoughts are "Just because you won't doesn't mean that I can't" and "Move over and watch me do what you won't". I may not get it right the first time ... or even the second time. I may not even accomplish it in front of the person that says I can't, but in the end, I get it done.

So, the next time someone tells you "I can't" or "you can't", get in there and prove to him/her that it can be done. Just like the sayings go, "Where there's a will, there's a way" and "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again". In the end, I ask everyone this: Is it that you "can't"? Or is it because you won't? Because "Can't" never did anything!

© 2012 Charles Dawson


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