When I was younger, my philosophy was this: get by doing what you're good at, and don't even bother with the rest. This led to a life of avoiding things that were the slightest bit challenging. Math. Riding a bike. Learning to read music. As you might guess, my skills in problem solving and persistence were sorely underdeveloped.
I might have continued in this direction, if it wasn't for one amazing person. In an earlier post, I mentioned my time in the pre-med program where I took nothing but math and science courses. All subjects that weren't my strong points, or so I thought at the time. My very first science course was General Chemistry, taught by the toughest professor in the department. His tests were legendary and could take five to seven hours to finish!
He was also the nicest, most caring professor -- and person -- as I found out during my first week. I showed up in his office asking for help with the homework assignment, and in my usual fashion, I'd done none of the problems and expected him to spoon-feed me every step of the way. He told me he was happy to help me any time, but that I'd get more out of our sessions together if I tried the problems first. Even if I just wrote down what I knew and what I needed to know.
I didn't like this answer. Doesn't he know I can't do this on my own? I thought. But part of me trusted him, so I went home and did as he suggested. The next day I came to his office slightly embarrassed, because I only had two questions, and they were little ones! He wasn't surprised. He just laughed and said "I told you so," and that was the beginning of a lovely friendship -- with him, and with science (as long as it had a little math in it -- apparently, I'm better at it than I'd thought!).
It was also the beginning of a long road to developing my problem solving skills and improving my attitude. It's taken some time and hard work, and I've had some setbacks along the way, but now, when I catch myself thinking "I can't," I say to myself: "Oh, yeah? We'll see."
I most definitely used this approach when it came to doing what I love for a living! At first, I considered all the steps involved in having a successful jewelry making business and thought there was no way I could do it. But then I took this thought as a challenge. I decided to call my bluff. "You can't, huh?" I said out loud. "Fine. Then prove it." It was only once I'd put some actual time and effort into my dream that I would allow myself to decide whether it was impossible.
So far, I've found that making an informed decision is hard! But every day I work on it. I take intimidating tasks and break them up into tiny little steps. As tiny as jotting down ideas for a blog post, drafting an email, setting up an empty Etsy account. I push myself to take one or more little steps every day, depending on what else I've got going on in my life, and I congratulate myself after I complete each task. And then I keep pushing.
And even though this is tough for someone whose ability to problem solve is still developing, I've noticed something interesting. A snowball effect. The more I push my boundaries, the more I find myself doing things I never would have imagined. I have to say, these little successes feel wonderful! Just like my Chemistry class, they're an invaluable learning experience.
They also help me realize that often, "I can't" doesn't really mean "I can't." It can mean "I don't know how... just yet." It can mean "I don't know how to get started... just yet." It can mean "I'm scared." These thoughts are much easier to deal with. :)
So how about you? What things do you believe you "can't" do? What's one tiny step you could take towards finding out if this is really true?
Thanks, and have a sequintastic day!
PS: Also, today I was featured on The Beading Gem's journal! This makes me more excited than I can express in a blog post, and so I'd like you to picture me dancing around the living room with my Halloween socks and my pajamas on... which is what I was totally doing this morning. :)
PPS: I recently wrote an article for the Daily Muse on coping with a muscle injury. Check it out, and check out the Muse, itself! It's run by really kind, caring, sweet, wonderful people and has a lot of good stories.