I work with teenagers and I love working with teenagers. They like to do adventurous things and I really like to do adventurous things with them. Adventure is unique in that it pushes them to move from “I can’t” to “I did”. For instance, we were at an outdoor obstacle course and one of our teens had climbed up the obstacle (which was a telephone pole) and was standing on it. The difficult part of this obstacle was not in the climbing of the pole, the difficulty of this obstacle was the leap off the pole and the grabbing of the trapeze bar dangling in mid-air… seemingly just out of reach.
In those moments, amazing things can happen. Either they face their fear head on and jump or they freak out so much that they need to be talked down form atop this pole. The magic happens in those moments. Will the teen move from “I can’t” to “I did”?
Can’t is a terrible word. It’s defeating and debilitating. Many times, it also gives us a completely false sense of self.
In my adult life, I remember hearing the word can’t from an director of a camp we were at for a retreat. We were eating lunch and the camp Director came over to me, interrupted lunch and said that I can’t do the horse back riding this afternoon because they can’t put anyone over 250lbs on the horses. He was polite and awkward, and neither one of us wanted to be in that conversation. The rational side of me completely understood, but the emotional side of me was broken. Now to be clear, I was never planning on riding a horse and was going with the other part of our group to do a different activity anyways, but it still hurts. It’s still embarrassing.
Most things in our world have weight limits that tell larger people that you can’t do something. Checking these out in secret is important to me… I don’t want to draw attention to it or make a deal of it.
For instance, when you visit theme parks, they often times will have seat examples outside the ride for you to try out. That’s a tough deal, trying to fit into a seat in front of people as they are walking past. The good news is that now you can be famous if you make it really weird because of everyone’s access to put things online. After all, we all like human fail videos… until you’re in one.
Most water slides have weight limits, and yes, I’ve found out why. (That might be a different story for a different time.) Obstacle courses are hit or miss, but the harness size is the issue there. I take a group to an outdoor adventure retreat center each year and some of their obstacles are safe for me while others are not. The scary part is trusting a small college kid to be able to lower you slow enough to not cause death or injury. Seriously, when you’re 30 feet up, that’s a real concern!
Being told that “I can’t” do something doesn’t make me want to loose weight, it makes me depressed, feel terrible, and want to kill my emotions with food. When I hear “can’t”, I begin to believe it. This sends me into a dark place. I try to face “can’t” with a focus on other things. For instance, let’s go back to that teenager perched on a pole scared to jump. Although I can’t participate in the obstacle because of my weight, I can help move that teen from a scared-to-death can’t to and I’m-scared-out-of-my-mind action. I have to redefine my role when I’m told that I can’t. I focus, not on myself, but on others. What can I do when other people say I can’t? I can help someone else and redefine my purpose within the situation. My purpose can switch from an “I can’t” depression to a “I can’t” eliminator. I love killing the “I can’t” in others. Times like this also help me to realize that I need people in my life to help me eliminate the “i can’t” from my life as well.
What I have learned is that “can’t” can be both true and false. It’s true, that If I ignore someones warning about weight limits that I might die or kill something else. However it is not a defining characteristic of who I am. I am not a can’t. I am a worthwhile person who is unstoppable and strong. I am a person with great value and worth who refuses to focus on the can’t, because can’t sucks!
Redefine and eliminate the can’t in your life… and Keep Going!