The Four-Letter Word You Are Not Allowed To Say Around Me
November 8, 2017
Never underestimate the power of words.
Last Friday, I gave a TEDx Talk titled “How an ordinary man is living an extraordinary life and how you can, too!” Preparing for it, I worked with Charles Edwards, a communications expert at Jackson Spalding, a marketing firm based here in Atlanta. During a break, we were talking about our families. Specifically, the values we are instilling in our children. He said something that resonated with me. In his household, his kids are forbidden from saying a certain four-letter word. I immediately thought it was the “F” word or the “S” one, but it was not one of them. It was the “Can’t” word. I immediately thought, “Wow!” I wouldn’t be living an extraordinary life if I used that word, and neither will you. I wasn’t as clear as Charles in letting my family and teams know to avoid the “can’t” word. I will now. (Charles is more than half my age. It was another example of the teacher being taught.)
When it comes to using the word “can’t,” there are only two times in which it is acceptable to use the term: when someone is asking you to do something that is either (1) unethical or (2) immoral. In all other situations, the word cannot be used. For example, if a family or team member is having trouble grasping or doing something that she wants to and starts doubting her competence, she cannot say “I can’t do it.” Let her know that she hasn’t yet found the right person who can explain it in a matter that resonates with her. (i.e., she hasn’t found the right teacher yet.) The key to learning is not to give up, but to keep searching for the right teacher. To that point, back in 1984 when I switched from being an accountant to a programmer at Georgia-Pacific, I had difficulty learning how to code. None of the other four programmer trainees were having problems. They all had computer science degrees and had been programming in college for at least two to three years. I was beginning to think that I can’t do it, but then the right teacher came into my life. His name was Gabe Lance. I became a very good programmer and went on to become CIO of the company.
Another thing to keep in mind is, as you take on more responsibility in life and at work, there will be times in which you already have too much on your plate and cannot take on anything else. The words to use in those situations are “Not now.” It is critical that you learn to say those words. If you don’t, you will overload yourself and lose sight of what I call the “Big Rocks”—the most critical things you have to do. To that point, you should never have more than two to three big rocks on your plate to do. Everything else is important, but not critical.
In closing, I wouldn’t have gone from living an ordinary life to an extraordinary one if “can’t” was part of my vocabulary. Remove the word from yours and you will be amazed at what you, your family and your teams will accomplish.
Summary: Don’t put limitations on you or your future. “Can’t” is the most limiting four-letter word anyone can use except for the two situations I mentioned. You can. It is just a matter of finding the right teacher. If you haven’t found her yet, keep on looking, you will find her and achieve your goals.
I want to thank my parents, teachers, mentors, and sponsors for instilling that persistence in me. Charles, Thanks for reminding me of it.
Next week’s #WednesdayWisdom will be on how to balance all of the responsibilities you have. (i.e., “It is not the load that breaks you; it is how you carry it.” Lena Horne.”)