Of all the words in the world, perhaps my least favorite is “can’t.”
Why? Maybe it’s because of how often it’s used to rain on somebody else’s parade. For example, people love to tell you that you can’t do things:
“You can’t just…(quit your job, get up and move to another country, say exactly what you’re thinking, change your mind, change your life.)”
People also love to tell you about the things THEY can’t do:
“It’s cool that you’re doing that, but I can’t (travel, eat well, save money, change careers) because (my job is too demanding, my kids have too many evening activities, I have college debt, I have a family to think of.)”
That last kind of “can’t” is the worst, because there’s a tinge of “Must be nice!” to it.
And “must be nice!” might just be the pettiest, most dripping-with-envy, and least productive phrase in the English language.
It implies not only that the other person got whatever it “must be nice!” to have through some kind of illicit, unfair or irresponsible means, but also that the person who wants whatever it “must be nice!” to have is helpless to change their own circumstances.
Can’t we just be honest with ourselves that we all have different desires and values, and make different choices that lead to different outcomes?
Luck, and the ready-made money and connections that are born of good fortune absolutely play a part in it. I’m not so naive as to think everyone who works hard their whole life will eventually become rich or famous, or be able to quit their job at 50 and travel the world drinking fine champagne and partying on yachts.
Nor am I suggesting that it’s a good idea for somebody who’s debt-strapped and has a family to support to quit his job tomorrow, without a plan or any resources, to “follow his dream.”
We all have obligations, responsibilities and obstacles to face. Obviously.
But I also believe that in the first world, almost anyone who wants to: travel more, work less, work a different kind of job, start a business, make more money, eat better, exercise more, learn a new language, live in a different country, move to a new city, have more children, spend more time with their children, etc, has the tools to work toward those goals. And that it’s a waste of time – and often not all that accurate – for somebody to say they “can’t” do or have those things.
Whenever I find myself going down the “must be nice!” path – because no, I am not immune – I reflect on my motives, what the other person has, why I want it, and why I don’t have it. Almost without fail, it’s one of the following:
- On second thought, I don’t really want it. For example, I sometimes find myself feeling jealous of musicians who get to sing for a living (and get filthy rich doing it), but when I think about what it really means to be a celebrity, I know that’s not a life I truly want to live. There are other ways for me to scratch that itch.
- I haven’t done – and maybe am not willing to do – the work and sacrificing it takes to get what they have. This is a tough one to admit to yourself, but sometimes, it’s true. During a long drive recently, I listened to Gary Vaynerchuk read his book Crush It. I admire Gary a lot – his energy, his made-from-scratch career and his knowledge – and loved the book. But when he started talking about the “hustle” he had to go through to get to where he is, I just felt tired. I realized that while I am definitely a hustler at heart and have found success in my niche, right now I am just not willing or able to put in super long hours and crazy amounts of energy to crank my career up by a few hundred percentage points. Admitting this to myself was really freeing, because it allowed me to feel more satisfied with what I am doing and the progress I’ve already made.
- Now is not the time. Often when I start feeling envious about something I “can’t” have, I realize that it’s mostly a matter of timing. For example, maybe when my kids are a little older and all of them are in school full time, I’ll have more energy and willingness to “hustle” on Gary V’s level. Maybe the trip to Europe that seems so impossible with all these kids (and our budget) will become much more possible when they are older, we have more freedom from school schedules, and our house is paid off. Maybe one day I’ll actually want to work out more than a few times a week, because I’ll just have more time on my hands. So often “can’t” is temporary, but we allow the word to take up permanent residence in our hearts.