Attaching a Value to Can’t

In the book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote about one of the life lessons he learned as a boy. The first time he was “whupped” was for responding to Matt. He was told that he was not named after a doormat. The second time was for saying, “I hate you.” The third for saying can’t. The fourth for lying about stealing a pizza. It wasn’t the stealing that warranted the punishment but getting caught and then lying about it. What was the lesson he learned from these instances?

I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

I have written in the past about the value of a name and on the virtue of Justice, which includes lying. But the use of the word can’t, this one hit the mark. Words have value. So, what is the value of this one?

Alec likes to use the word can’t frequently. If it is too difficult, too hard to understand, or requires too much effort, the default statement is, “I can’t.” I have never spanked him for saying this, unlike McConaughey’s punishment, but it has crossed my mind. He is too young to be setting artificial boundaries on his abilities.

Can’t means not possible. The value is concrete. When we overutilize this word, we put too much concrete around us. We put up barriers to what is within our abilities. Can’t is the governor on a Ferrari that reduces the car’s maximum speed from over 200 to 150 miles per hour, it is the speed limit that sets its maximum legal speed to 70, and it is the poor maintenance on the tires that further reduces it down to a safe speed of 30. Can’t is the boundaries that takes a supercar designed for speed and reduces it down to a substandard vehicle barely safe for the road.

Why put limitations on yourself by saying you can’t do it? This word has power, but it is not the kind you want to wield. Instead of saying can’t think of what it would take to make it happen. Maybe it is not possible today. But with the training, effort, and a different perspective, it could be possible tomorrow. As Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”

Your Own Personal Treasure Island

There are a few quotes that have always resonated with me. Thoreau had a good one about us only hitting at what we aim at. Therefore, he said, we should aim at something high even though we might fail immediately. Mix his words with Les Brown’s quote about shooting for the moon. If we do not make it to the moon, he said, at least we might land among the stars. I spend a good amount of time considering my aim in life. I also spend an equal amount of time considering the consequences of missing that mark.

Can you really lose if your aim is in the right direction? I don’t think so, and well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  These are some very encouraging words from Thoreau, Brown, and Lee. And though I do take a small amount of comfort in remembering them, missing the mark is still missing the mark.

There are a few things in this life that I feel called to do. Failure to do them, I believe, would haunt me into my next existence. And these are things that I do not do for the gold or the glory. Yet by achieving them, I believe I would find more wealth than on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember my land navigation classes from the Army. You plot out your destination on the map and figure out how you are going to get there. You pull out your compass and find the direction you need to go. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and you find yourself deviating off the path. Once you realize this, you adjust your aim and correct your course. The journey might seem never-ending. At times, it might seem impossible, but we have no choice to keep going. Keep aiming and adjusting because the rewards are too great. In fact, it is the only fortune worth finding.

Trust the Process

The seed goes into the ground. It is nourished and watered every day for five years. After the fifth year, the seed breaks through the ground. In a matter of weeks, it is an eighty foot tree. This is the Chinese Bamboo tree.

I have never heard about this tree until I listened to this short clip by Les Brown.

Imagine being charged with the task of caring for this seed. Miss one day in the five years, and you could jeopardize the seed breaking through the earth. Fully aware of the consequences, you do your task. You trust the process, knowing that if you are faithful until the end, you will reap the rewards. You know what it reminds me of?

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” –Matthew 17:20

There is a seed within me. For decades, it was dormant. It wasn’t getting the nutrients and the water it needed to break through. A little over a year ago, I started to cultivate it. It was time to do the work of a gardener and get busy with life’s purposes. I am on year two and part of me is frustrated. I see seeds sprouting in those around me. When will my seed break through? I have to remind myself I am still in the early stages. I don’t know how long it will take, but I do know that I must continue to water and fertilize.

I tell myself, “I’m gonna move that mountain.” This seems like an impossible task, until I am reminded of the words of Confucius. He said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away a small stone.” A small stone at a time means the mountain won’t be moved in a day. This is faith in action. I believe the mountain can be moved, and so I chip away a bit at a time. Faith and persistence. Water and fertilizer.

Photo by Pablo Azurduy on Unsplash

What does the gardener gain from the five years of nurturing the seed? Is it the tree? It may be the only thing the world sees or even judges, but there is more than just the tree. There is the gardener. Not the same person who started the journey five years ago, but a new person. A different person.

Trust the process. Have Faith. Persist. Water and fertilize.

To be successful, you must be willing to do the things today others won’t do in order to have the things tomorrow others won’t have. -Les Brown