Never let anyone tell you what you can't do

I went to a business conference a few weeks ago, expecting to come away with some business tips. What I received, however, was a renewed look at my belief in myself.

I had already decided a few weeks before the conference that I was going to continue past my self-declared one year trial of being self-employed. The conference reaffirmed this decision.  It also gave me the opportunity to hear from numerous successful entrepreneurs (and I imagine as I go over my notes of their words, they will prompt future posts).

The quote above was attributed to the grandfather of one of the speakers, a man named John Grant. According to Grant, his grandfather was born a slave, worked to buy his freedom (for $50) and went on to establish himself enough that he was able to return to his home city, establish businesses, employ people, and build a community school.  It was clear during the conference that people were awed and inspired by this story.  I was too, of course, but the words written above, “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do, but more importantly, never let that person be you,” are what really stuck with me.

There are times when I let someone else’s negativity bring me down, but usually a person not believing in my ability will only prompt me to work harder and prove them wrong.  The real barrier against my potential successes is usually my self.  As I heard this man’s words, words he carried from his ancestor, I wondered how many times I had not tried something new, not continued with something I probably could have been successful at, not followed my dreams and passions because of that nagging voice from within that was whispering, ‘you can’t do this,’ ‘you might fail,’ ‘why bother even trying?’

There are more moments than I could even remember when the whisper has won over, blocking out all the other voices telling me I am able.

Some of those moments relate directly to my writing, and, more specifically, to the novel I started . . . wow . . . ten years ago.  I started it, left it for about five years, finally finished it, submitted it to a writing contest and a writer in residence, received some very positive feedback but also the knowledge that it was in fact not a novel, but a novella and needed to be flushed out – finished.

This past year, finishing it has been my goal.  I’m very close to completing the first draft but I know I could have been done months ago.  Part of me loves writing it but part of me is also terrified that all of this time and effort and heart that shows up as words on my computer screen will ultimately fail . . .

Now, of course, the act in itself is an accomplishment – that’s what people tell me – and I believe it.  But I also want these words to be read by others. It’s been the dream I’ve held since I first remembering dreaming.  When I surf the web, read a book, watch a movie instead of doing the writing I planned on doing, when I get stuck and stop, if I’m honest with myself I know it’s because on some level I’m hearing that voice that says I can’t do it . . .

But the thing is, if I listen, if any of us listen when that voice that only we can hear starts speaking, our dreams will never be realized. We will never know what we could have been capable of or what gift we could have contributed to this world.

I have the quote above written on my bathroom mirror, reminding me that sometimes I’m my worse enemy and also reminding me that I have the power to silence that annoying, nagging, demoralizing whisper.

Whatever your voice may be telling you you can’t do, take a moment, acknowledge that the voice is coming from within, then promptly speak back – “You’re wrong.” – and smile.

Originally posted July, 2012 at

Join the conversation!