“How I Can” vs. “Why I can’t”

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“I can.” “I can’t.”

Two simple phrases separated by one small letter, but the meaning couldn’t be more different. So many times in our lives we’ve been faced with these two words – taunting and tearing at us like the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. And yet I can’t imagine a more crisp distinction in how we choose to live our lives.

Do we really approach life with such a binary outlook – either living our lives with an optimistic outlook (searching for the path forward), or one of pessimism (a resolve that we are where we are)? You might be inclined to argue this point, because life isn’t that black or white – Right? But in my experience, we do. It’s human nature to allow our past and present bias to influence how we approach the daily problems we face both in business and our personal lives. And yet, we do have a choice. 

So many times in my personal life I’ve seen this play out. Will I accept defeat, or will I find a path forward? For my part, I’ve been kicked around with the best of them. If you’ll allow me, I would love to share some of my own history on this subject.

You see, I’m not one who necessarily came from privilege. My mother was a parole officer, and if you know what salary an officer of the peace makes you’ll recognize that we didn’t have the gift of financial fortune. I remember shopping at Goodwill and Purple Heart for clothes as an older child. I also remember sitting in the parking lot, squatting below the car window to watch the traffic for the right opportunity to run inside. Embarrassment – right? That’s the “Why I can’t”. Then came the break in traffic, where I would run inside because I knew what “could be”. And what “could be” was name brand clothes with the tags on them, at a mere $1.50 each. That’s the “How I can”.

It’s a silly example, but one I hope resonates with so many of us. I know we all have similar stories, plenty of which includes facing adversity. That history often imprints a certain perspective in our minds. The easy path is to simply accept the situation – bowing to defeat when faced with adversity. Or we gain comfort in how far we’ve come, accepting the status quo, and convincing ourselves that it was meant to be. That’s the “why I can’t”.

The hard path is to choose to overcome…choose to find a way forward. I so admire those stories of individuals who simply determined that the obstacle would instead become a challenge. Those who search feverishly for the small wins – whatever that might be. Those who know that each successive win means they live to fight another day. And who know that it is better to make progress than excuses.

This same scenario also plays out so often in business and leadership. We accept our current circumstances, and further BLAME them for our situation. And when asked to change, we quickly revert to “why I can’t”.

Excuse me for being so direct, but that is hogwash!

You are ALL capable of being everything you dreamed you could be. Let me say that again – You are ALL capable of being everything you dreamed you could be! Anyone who suggests differently should be quickly pushed aside. Only you have the power to control this. No, it’s not easy – nothing worth achieving is. But you can determine what attitude and perspective to bring to each situation.

Which brings me back to the quote from Henry Ford:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

A prophetic statement – so true yet so firmly rooted in perspective. Two sides of the very same coin, and yet two completely different paths.

I’m standing on the island of “How I can”. Care to join me?

4 thoughts on ““How I Can” vs. “Why I can’t”

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