In The Trenches

You can do anything

Published on January 25, 2016 Back to blog
Stuffed Animals

As a child, the word “can’t” was considered a swear word in my house – even worse than the more commonly used 4-letter words that begin with “f” or “s.” My mom would immediately lecture us when my brothers or I said it. “I have to clean your mouth out with soap,” she would mutter as she swabbed her soapy fingers on our tongues.

When my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and it continued to worsen, that word became even more offensive.  That word simply didn’t exist, and her “can-do” attitude is what got her through.  Although the lack of feeling and function in her legs (and other parts of her body) kept her from walking, she never stopped moving forward. She “walked” down the aisle and “danced” with us at each of our weddings – the fact that she did it with lots of assistance was irrelevant.  When any of her nine grandchildren visited, they enjoyed scooter rides – which were much more fun than piggy back rides.  And while she was faced with infinite challenges getting from point A to point B, she always seemed to find a way. 

My mom dedicated her life to teaching this can-do attitude. She created the “Can-Do” friends –  a posse of stuffed animals, each with handicaps who, despite their disabilities, were able to do all the things that others can do (sometimes even better).  Each animal was named after one of her children or grandchildren.  Marco, the elephant who had trouble hearing was named after my brother, Marc.  Drewsie, named after my brother Drew, was a bear who had to use a cane to walk.  Jeffy, the blind beaver, was named after yours truly. And there were many more with prosthetic limbs, speaking disabilities and other challenges.  She would ride her scooter into elementary schools and nursing homes with her hockey bag full of Can Do friends to share their stories and demonstrate how they could do anything. She also published two children’s books to further the message – “Special” ears (a book about Marco) and “Wrapping Paper,” a book demonstrating that it’s what’s inside that really counts. But, she herself was the truest representation of her message.

When my mom passed away a few years ago, I asked my then nine-year old daughter what she would remember most about her. She looked up at me and simply stated, “that you should never say ‘I can’t.’” Of course, I cried.  And last weekend, Josh, my 8-year old son, once again reminded me of the importance of this attitude – which prompted me to write this blog.

Immediately after telling Josh we were thinking of finishing our basement, he took out his drawing paper and began to imagine what such a basement could look like. He then presented his “architectural drawings” to me, complete with a fitness room, music room, bathroom, big game room, small game room, Wii room, dog room, movie room and, of course, a full bar with big-screen TV’s. As I reviewed his proposed drawings, I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean, who needs three game rooms? And why does an 8-year old need a full bar? But, what struck me most was his uninhibited imagination. He wasn’t limited by plumbing requirements, wiring, duct work, actual dimensions or cost. The idea of “can’t” never crossed his mind. He just let his mind go and, because of that, I was able to understand exactly what was most important to him. 

As adults, we tend to work in the opposite manner.  Rather than starting with the idea that anything is possible, we start with a range of restrictions and identify ways to work within them.  Budget limitations, time constraints, previous experiences, known skill sets, technology capabilities and many other factors impact our starting point.  As a result, our ideas and thinking are limited.  I’ve been in far too many meetings and conversations where the word “can’t” permeates the room.  It would be awkward to dab soap on the offender’s tongues, but I still cringe every time I hear it.  In the back of my mind, I can visualize my mom’s face contorting in madness from the mere sound of the word.   

No great idea or invention ever started with the words I can’t. When you imagine a world where anything is possible, you will discover new ways to achieve things.

So, please take my mom’s advice and remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. I know you can do it.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners