How many times do you tell yourself that you can't do something, or that you're not very good at something?
I like to draw, and people often look at my work and say 'I could never do that.' When I write for clients, they often tell me 'I can't write.'
Today, I heard from a friend who had written an entry for a contest, but wasn't sure about sending it. She said "I'm not a good writer - can you tell me if this is OK?"
There followed an eloquent
and beautiful and touching story that left me shaking my head about her comment that she's not a good writer.
I guess we get ideas in our head about what makes a good writer (or artist or musician or accountant or whatever) and maybe in school we got lots of red pen on our work, so we tell ourselves that we can't do it.
For me it was math. I was terrible at math in school. I froze up when I was asked a question. I flunked all my exams. And then I erected defenses to protect myself - I didn't try in math class. I made it obvious I wasn't listening. I passed notes and made jokes. That way, when I failed, it was no big deal. And I did fail! Every single time.
But years later, as an adult, I wanted to study psychology. The masters program at NYU required that we study for GSE exams - if you've never taken a GSE, they're like SATs. This meant I had to study math. This time, I had no one to distract me and I wasn't trying to impress my friends. I had to do this because I wanted to take this course.
I studied and studied and studied for 6 months. Almost every night when I got home from work, I spent 2 or 3 hours taking tests and working out algebra. Yes I was FUN to be around!
And when I took the test, I was convinced I would fail. After all, I suck at math.
The test was computerized, so when you were done answering, they showed you your score. I nearly passed out and hit my head on the desk when it showed that I had aced the math! I got 740, which was higher than my English score!
I almost stopped breathing. How could that be?? That's the exact opposite of what I had thought about myself for 20 years. (Remember, I got Es in my all my high school classes).
It was a huge lesson to me about how we frame things and what that framing does to us. And now when my friend says 'I can't write' and then sends me a beautiful and moving piece of writing, I think of that experience.
She can SO write! But she thinks "writing" is something more than just putting her feelings down on paper. She thinks there is some art to it that she doesn't know. She thinks that using big words equals good writing, or that fancy sentence structure and good grammar are the keys. But the keys to good writing are stripping away all of that and just communicating what's in your heart, and everyone can do that.
I'm not suggesting that we can all succeed at everything - I'm pretty sure I wouldn't make it to the Top 12 on American Idol no matter how hard I tried - but I am saying that sometimes the frames through which we view our capabilities are defective. And that whenever we find ourselves saying 'I can't do that,' we should challenge the assumption and maybe give it a try anyway.