The Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard

dumbest thing you can'tI don’t know who said it to me first. I can’t even drop knowledge about what I’d do in retrospect. Today, it’s more an intervention than anything, hoping you’ll stop doing this one thing in your life and your business (like, right #$%^&*() now).

“You can’t do that.”

Why can’t I?

If you tell someone that they can’t do something, you’d best be lined-up in front of them with some substantive data explaining that, should they choose to proceed with said action, they will:

  • Be eaten by bears
  • Kill themselves or someone else
  • Be participating in some sort of malicious act that no good can come of (and while some douchecopters deserve this stuff, we all know it’s stuff we shouldn’t do)

Me? I’m a huge fan of, “Sure. Go ahead. Let’s see how that works out for ya.” And than I grab a bucket of popcorn with a metric ton of butter on it, some napkins and a soft drink with a bendy straw shooting out of it and make sure my FlipCam is charged.

Maybe you’re in one of those jobs where you’re surrounded by people who revel in telling you what you can and can’t do. Maybe it’s one of those relationships. Maybe you’re the parent finding that phrase a primary part of your vocabulary (and yes, I know…kids touch shit. I know!). But why?

We don’t learn lessons by people telling us that we can’t do something. We learn in a few beautiful ways:

  • Watching others and deciding to learn from their actions (there’s a key word in that sentence – it’s a Where’s Waldo)
  • Doing something and failing
  • Doing something and succeeding

The three sentences above are active. When people tell us what we can and cannot do, they’re forcing us into a passive role.

Personally, I think that’s crap. It’s crap with sprinkles on top, designed as people trying to look out for us or those who are just bitter, oppressive assholes who got pulled from the teat too early as a child. I’ve been told that I can’t do things so many times in my life that I just don’t hear it anymore. I don’t say it to clients. I don’t say it to friends and family. I do, however, say it to my dogs when they’re enjoying some crap snacks out of the kitty box – not because the crap will kill them or anyone else, but I just don’t want to kiss my dogs knowing they just ate at the Poop Buffet. So here’s the bottom line:

You can do anything. Absolutely anything you set your mind to doing. And here’s what you need to know going into that decision:

  • You may not be good at it and fail miserably.
  • You may be good at it and still be mediocre in light of the grand landscape.
  • You may be good at it and succeed.
  • You might suck at it and still succeed because the wind is blowing in the right direction at just the right time.

We have such an inherent fear of failure that we try to protect others from it when in all actuality, we should be pushing them (and ourselves) towards it. If ee cummings had believed 14 people who had rejected the manuscript of his first collection of poems, we’d be missing out on a legacy of literary beauty. If the Wright Brothers believed those who said they’d never fly, I wouldn’t be sitting in San Francisco right now. Just think of one thing you’ve accomplished in your life because you didn’t listen to the nay-saying ass monkeys. And then it’s time to rethink your life. If you’re surrounded by more people who tell you that you can’t than those who tell you that you can and support you…you might want to do something about that.

And that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard – to be told I can’t do something. I’ve been told I can’t say “fuck” and that people won’t hire me because I have tattoos. I’ve been told I can’t turn down work and that there’s no way I can succeed in “this economy.” Some have said I can’t say what I do. Okay – lots. But somehow, I keep doing all of those things and finding my kind of success lurking around every corner. I can only hope that your life will be filled with the only useful invocation of the “you can’t” iteration::

You can’t tell me what I can’t do.

“It is folly for an eminent person to think of escaping censure, and a weakness to be affected by it. All the illustrious persons of antiquity, and indeed of every age, have passed through this fiery persecution. There is no defense against reproach but obscurity; it is a kind of concomitant to greatness, as satires and invectives were an essential part of a Roman triumph.” ~Joseph Addison

34 comments
Liz DiAlto
Liz DiAlto

No homo (offensive but apropos saying)...I'm in love with you. This is so effing true-and I'm crying laughing. My favorite combination is funny and true, yesss!! Thank you. You might like my most recent video blog, it's called "Quit Being Such a HUGE B*tch" http://fithealthyandbeautiful.com/quit-huge-btch/ So glad Laura Belgray mentioned you in her blogcastFM interview, signing up to be on your list right now!

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman

F bombs and tats..........I knew this was going to be a good site, and of course I had to hit the porn tab; I was hoping my computer didn't explode but of course, don't tell me I can't do that.....:). I'm stopping by on Griddy's recommendation and glad I did. I love your style and look forward to seeing more of you.........online of course............hopefully there will be minimal douchebaggery on my part. Everything I've been plugged into has been mostly social media related so this is a good 'branching out' for me. Red headed and sassy, imagine that................:).

Diana Antholis
Diana Antholis

The people who say "can't" will be eternally unhappy. Screw them.

Max Adams
Max Adams

I tell my students there is only one rule in screenwriting: Don't be boring. Anyone else who tells them there are rules about what they can and cannot do is full of crap. I love this piece. Can I talk you into appearing as a guest poster on my blog and reprinting it?

Justin Matthews
Justin Matthews

I have reached that point with my kids...the first "don't do that" is ignored and the "fine, go ahead" takes over followed by the snide "Well, they will only do it once and realize...." Nice post Erika. Being told I can't do things is precisely why I didn't tell any of my extended family about my online ventures for over a year. I didn't need that discouragement.

Cherry
Cherry

Wonderfully said my dear. I wish more people, myself included, would do more things that that they won't be good at (at least not withoout years of practice) but they'll have so much fun trying. Like tangoing or painting.

davinabrewer
davinabrewer

For some reason this made me think of John Locke (LOST), that character's theme was "don't tell me what I can't do." We're the ones who limit ourselves if by nothing else, actually listening to the douchecopters and nay-saying ass monkeys letting them define our success on their terms. Need to cut that shit out, FWIW.

TravelnLass
TravelnLass

The only thing dumber than someone telling you that you can't do something, izzz... Allowing such rubbish to remain in your brain for more than a yoctosecond (for those who might not know - there's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 yocto's in a second).

John Trader
John Trader

At one point in my professional career I was a stone mason. It was backbreaking work, complex, meticulous and one of the hardest jobs I ever had. I never in a million years thought that I would get one of the best pieces of advice I had ever received from the guy who owned the company, who was a rather gruff, socially challenged man. When I ran into a problem building something one day based on the original specs (basically trying to make the impossible work), I went to the owner and said, "I can't do it." He came over, took a look at what I was working on then rubbed his chin and said - "Go get a dictionary and look up the word "can't." Instead, see: can" It took a minute for me to get it but it stuck with me like flies on a glue strip.

Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2
Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

In the words of one of my favorite marketing mentors Jay Abraham says... "Everything is a test" Of course, he was talking about everything in your business but I think of this quote and what you wrote here and I expand it to all of life. and say "Everything is a test and most of it is worth testing for your own damn self." What you've laid down here also makes me think of this passage I just read in David Deida's book... "A fearful man who knows he is fearful is far more trustable than a fearful man who isn't aware of his fear. And a fearful man who still leans into his fear, living at his edge and putting his gift out there, is more trustworthy and more inspirational than a fearful man who hangs back in the comfort zone, unwilling to even experience his fear on a day to day level. A free man is free to acknowledge his fears, without hiding them, or hiding from them. Live with your lips pressed against your fears, kissing your fears, neither pulling back nor aggressively violating them." I love that you're living on your edge Erika, having YOUR kind of success in a world where the majority have told, and still tell you it isn't possible! Keep your lips pressed to the fear girl! I can't wait to see how you fuck this internet marketing world wide open to love further than you already have. :)

Nick Rapson
Nick Rapson

Another top notch post - many thanks for posting. It's very inspiring! I've been told pretty much all my life what I can and cannot do. Oh sure, people *meant* well when they told me - offering me the benefit of their massive amounts of combined experience. I listened to it for a long time until my mid-teens I had just had enough. I've always believed that you have to make your own mistakes, learn your own way. When I listened to the naysayers they were engaging in emotional blackmail; they feared a thing, therefore I should fear it too. And if they don't fear it, if they're simply trying to control me, then I shouldn't do it to make them look bad. Now, some twenty years later, I'm realising my dream. I've gone in to business for myself. If somebody now says to me, "You can't do that!" I take that as a challenge. Picking up on a point made in one of the earlier comments, I don't tell people they can't do something. I'll advise them on why it might be a bad idea - if I even know anything about what they're doing! - but other than that, I'll wish them luck. I don't want to hear "You can't do that," so why should I make others hear it from me? Thanks again for posting, Erika. Another bloody brilliant post! :D

Dr. Harl Delos
Dr. Harl Delos

Actually, that's the SECOND dumbest thing you've ever heard. The DUMBEST thing you've ever heard is "you can do anything if you set your mind to it." Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, and certainly one of the hardest-working, and yet when he tried to play baseball, he couldn't make it to the show, and he only survived in the minors because of his celebrity as a basketball player. I'm not knocking him at all. I'm glad he tried, and I wished him well. It's just that a lot of what you can succeed at is limited by your genes. Refrigerator Perry couldn't possibly win the Kentucky Derby, and I can't fly by flapping my arms and jumping off the pump house roof. Save me some popcorn. I want to sit next to you and watch. And when someone beats the odds and succeeds despite all the nay-sayers, I want to be there to cheer for them, as much as I want to laugh when they fail. Hope springs eternal in an idiot - and if I wasn't an idiot, too, it wouldn't be funny.

Tobey Deys
Tobey Deys

Even with failure, there should be some fireworks ;-) Thanks for the boost, Dan!

Camilo Olea
Camilo Olea

You can't keep writing awesome posts like this! (Hoping you actually do the opposite) Warm regards from Cancun :)

Greg Smith MD
Greg Smith MD

Erika Perfect. I needed to hear this today. Thanks for your impeccable timing. Greg

calipidder
calipidder

Long time listener, first time caller. I used to be the one saying "you can't do that". To myself. My life is much happier and rewarding since I cut that crap out. Now when I find myself saying that to, um, myself, there is another voice that cuts in and says "the hell you can't. You're tough as nails. You climb mountains in the snow and in the rain FOR FUN. So what's making THIS so hard?" And then I do it. Well, I TRY. Which, in most cases, is a success in its own right.

Marie Rotter
Marie Rotter

Nice job Erika! My husband used to get so mad at me because every time he says "no" or "I don't think you should" then I had to go do it. He's learning though. Now he usually just says things like, "You can't do the laundry. I'll do it for you."

Chris Eh Young
Chris Eh Young

I like to refer to the three doucheketeers: Those who say you can't. Those who say you won't. Those who say it's impossible. Generally, they're all fear driven. Heck, most people are. Most people over the age of 20 anyway. I have 4 kids. Tell my 7 year old he can't do 60 mph on his scooter and watch how fast he tries. Does he care if he can't? Not a lick. He sees it as a challenge and starts drawing Wile E Coyote style shit to help him with the task. Perhaps we need to stop trying so hard to teach our kids about the big bad world we live in and instead try learning a few things from the fascinating world of possibility they live in.

Sloane
Sloane

My mother has a quote that I now use, "Can't was an animal that never tried." Beats me where the hell that one came from but I liked it, remember it well and now use it on my son.

Tobey Deys
Tobey Deys

I dug a deep hole and buried 'can't' a long time ago. I've tried and failed brilliantly at many things (luckily one wasn't skydiving) and I chalk all of the dumb things I've done to 'learning experiences' (when you call them that it makes them seem less dumb). Most of what I try requires a helmet, and can be scary (like a whole new career and, gulp, my age), there's nothing better than believing that the universe is actually on your side (cue the music...). Thanks for this post - I think I'm going to go and try something! peace ;-) (oh, and Douchecopters? sick. A new word for my growing lexicon!)

Dawndash
Dawndash

This was the mantra my parents brought me up on: You can do anything. A good reminder for us all. Oh yea, and Douchecopters - awesome!

Ben Anderson
Ben Anderson

As a fan of your particular irreverence I have found that I always come away from your posts enlightened and strangely turned on...don't read too much into that. Thanks for giving me permission to tell those naysayers off in no uncertain terms. Now I just need to be more ambitious do you have any advise for that dilemma?

Bhaskar Sarma
Bhaskar Sarma

And thanks, Redhead for adding to my list of words to whip out when an argument goes south. Douchecopters- is that like a douchebag who loves to tell people stranded in traffic snarls that they travel around in helicopters?

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  2. […] The Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard “We have such an inherent fear of failure that we try to protect others from it when in all actuality, we should be pushing them (and ourselves) towards it. If ee cummings had believed 14 people who had rejected the manuscript of his first collection of poems, we’d be missing out on a legacy of literary beauty. If the Wright Brothers believed those who said they’d never fly, I wouldn’t be sitting in San Francisco right now. Just think of one thing you’ve accomplished in your life because you didn’t listen to the nay-saying ass monkeys. And then it’s time to rethink your life. If you’re surrounded by more people who tell you that you can’t than those who tell you that you can and support you…you might want to do something about that.” ~Erika Napoletano at Redhead Writing […]