Replacing "I Can't" with "What If?"

Saturday, November 26, 2016

“I hope my future husband is good at cooking so I won’t ever have to worry about that on Thanksgiving.”

As soon as I said it, I was embarrassed, mostly because my sister was quick to challenge me: “Why can’t you learn to cook?”

It sounded accusatory, as though she assumed I was waiting for my future husband to “save” me from what I felt I couldn’t do. I’d meant it, though, in a way that just hoped he’d complement me. I don’t see myself as particularly proficient behind a stove, and I hoped his strengths would someday cover my weakness.

“You can do anything you want to do.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Of course I know that; I'm the product of the generations before me who fought for women’s abilities to define their own futures, and the daughter of the ‘90s Disney princess revolution which urged us to dream big and dare. I spend idle moments with my iPhone searching for new inspirational quotes to use as my lock screen background, and I scribble new goals and dreams in my journal daily.

But still I know that even with the best of intentions, there are certain talents each of us inclines toward, and there’s a lot more resistance involved in pushing aggressively toward success in something we’re not naturally gifted in. That’s usually when we opt to leave that for someone else, and cultivate the things we really enjoy instead (as I did, for example, when I discovered my hand-eye coordination is seriously lacking and decided to pursue theatre rather than sports in my childhood).

But the thing about cooking is that I’ve never even really tried to learn how. My parents divorced when I was twelve, and though my mother has many talents, cooking is not her forte. She didn’t teach me, and I guess I’ve always considered the fact that I’ve never learned as proof positive that I can’t, because if I could, I would have done it already, and all these years of not having done it must mean it would be all the more difficult to try now… right?

It’s become a popular self-deprecating joke, a conversation starter even, when I speak with others about what we like to do: Oh you like to cook? That’s awesome. My cooking expertise usually starts and ends with grilled cheese and anything that comes out of a box. I can toss salads and dump ingredients in a crockpot. But real cooking? Like, turning-the-stove-on cooking? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

My sister’s comment the other day reminded me it’s time to reconsider this, not only because others seem to pity a twenty-something college graduate who still lives on a dorm room diet and who’s more than capable of teaching herself how to cook, but also because… well…

I’d put myself in a box, hadn’t I? And the discomfort I was feeling was the result of trying to cramp myself in a space too small for me.

We do this all the time, don’t we? Decide what we’re good at, who we are and are not, what we can and can’t do. We catastrophize "what if" (What if it all goes horribly wrong?) without ever giving ourselves the benefit of it – what if we’re actually really great at this thing we’ve never tried?

We think we’re being true to who we are, and there’s certainly something to be said for authenticity if it’s true. But how many times do we use “I can’t” as an excuse to not find out who we are in the first place… to keep hiding, to dull our sparkle, to stay shut inside our boxes when our potentials long to be unpacked?

What’s something you’ve always assumed you couldn’t do? This week, take one tiny step towards trying. Learn one recipe. Watch an instrument tutorial on YouTube. Write a poem that no one else will ever see.

Replace "I can't," with, "What if...?" and give yourself the benefit of believing you can.

Photo Credit: tsuacctnt Flickr via Compfight cc

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