It was a beautiful Spring morning at recess when I got my big chance.
“Tim! Come play defense!,” I heard my friends shout.
My friend had just gotten hurt playing on our pickup recess soccer league and I’d been invited to play in the daily soccer game that took place at my elementary school every single day.
In Claremont, California, where I grew up, soccer was a big deal. Maybe it was the result of the affluence of the area, or the desire to keep up with the Joneses that led the little college town nestled between the bustling Los Angeles Metropolis and the inexpensive Inland Empire where those willing to commute 90 minutes to get there lived.
The best looking and most popular kids all played soccer, many on the expensive local club team. And the easiest way to tell a soccer kid was those three stripes on the sides of their clothes and the one word that meant you were “in”:
Sure, you didn’t have to play soccer to wear Adidas, but if you did wear those stripes, you had to be prepared to face a challenge on the pitch. Between Soccer and the growing popularity of the Beastie Boys, there was nothing cooler. But if you were a morbidly obese kid like I was growing up, there was no way to sport those stripes without the entire playground knowing you were an imposter, a “poser”.
And so when my moment came and I had the chance to get on the pitch and play, I preordered a pair of Sambas in my mind. I struggled to my feet and brushed the grass off of my loose fitting Oakland A’s sweat pants and got ready for my chance. My body heard but my mind didn’t get the message.
“I can’t guys, I hurt my ankle the other day,” I heard myself say. Ankle injuries were an almost monthly occurrence for me; twice a month if you count the ones I made up.
Why did I say no?
It would be 25 years before I would finally make my way onto a soccer pitch (I was actually ok at it as it turned out). It was fun and exhilarating and great exercise and I wasted a quarter of a century on fear of being a poser.
I stayed authentic and true to my cowardly self. In a moment of irony, my fear of failure made me a failure.
“I can’t,” is a self fulfilling prophecy. When we are afraid or believe ourselves unqualified or undeserving, we will create a world in which those things are true. Last week, I posted a message inspired by Peter Thiel’s great quote:
“If you think something hard is impossible, you’ll never even start trying to achieve it.”
Have you ever tried to flap your arms so hard you flew?
Chances are, this question is off the rails ridiculous to you and I totally get that. Why would I even try? My point exactly.
For years, I sat in not trying mode. I didn’t try soccer. I didn’t try to lose weight, really. I didn’t try brussels sprouts and I didn’t play full out. All of that changed for me and is still changing. There are still days when I struggle to get out of bed to get to the gym in the morning. I’ll grumble something about “I can’t make it today” before I pull myself up by my lifting straps and drag my arse to the gym.
That’s the thing about “I can’t.” All the fun stuff happens on the other side of “I can’t.” It’s uncharted territory: the 4 minute mile, the lost city of Atlantis, the pleasurable dinner with your Mother-in-Law.
Next time you’re tempted to say “I can’t” in the beginning of a sentence, stop, and ask yourself one simple question:
If I could do this, what would that look like?**
Start to envision the possibility of accomplishing your goal. How would that work out? What would you have to do, become or have in order to make it a reality? Start with those things and go make it happen.