When we moved from a Salt Lake City suburb to a farm in western Washington, we knew our lives would change. Things that had been within a few minutes’ drive were now located down a miles-long access road. The closest big city is over an hour away – and the second-closest is in another country. Animals live everywhere: coyotes send eerie howls through the night and bald eagles seem impossibly large as they swoop down to perch. The wind sweeps across flat land from the nearby sea. Our nearest neighbors live on a separate plot, removed from us by our twelve acres. In the nearby town, cash or check is still a way of life.
If you’ve ever moved from a dense urban area to a rural one, you’re probably familiar with the disorientation. The pace of life is so different that it feels almost like we moved to a different planet.
The challenge of change
All that said, the move was a welcome one. It allowed us land for horses, something we’d always wanted. It allowed our children to run free on land that spreads out in welcome for them. When we first moved to this area, my daughter Olivia was in 3rd grade. She’d been a happy child in Utah, with a circle of close friends we’d known her whole life. In retrospect, I see our move came at a vulnerable time for her. She had been starting to find herself and her confidence, only to be uprooted from everything she knew and moved to a totally foreign place.
When we arrived, we enrolled her in the local country school that serves kids from kindergarten through 8th grade. The school year started quietly, but I quickly noticed that Olivia was struggling to find a new place. Where she’d had a group of friends in Utah, she didn’t seem close with anyone at her new school. She seemed anxious about going to class. She had lost confidence in herself and started scoring poorly on state assessments that had never given her trouble before. She started to demonstrate tics – a common feature of anxiety in children. They were so persistent that we began to suspect she had Tourette syndrome.
To her everlasting credit, though, Olivia powered through. She finished 3rd grade, and moved on to 4th. While things didn’t improve, they also didn’t worsen. What was worsening, though, was my concern. What had we done? Had we moved all this way chasing our family dreams and created something our children couldn’t handle? Had something happened that we hadn’t noticed? Was this just the way things were now, painted over with a wash of anxiety and stress?
The worry of it sat beneath my skin like an inflammation. Olivia finished 4th grade, bringing her same struggles with her. I started to wonder whether we could do anything to help.
One magic word
Then, something amazing happened. Olivia arrived on the first day of 5th grade into the welcoming classroom of Mrs. Pearson. I didn’t know it on that first day of school, but it was the day everything would change. Mrs. Pearson is firm but fair, demanding but warm, and most of all carries an abiding belief in the human spirit. She said something to Olivia that year – over and over and over. She said it so often that it stuck, somewhere deep down inside. Most importantly, though, she believed it.
“I don’t know how to do it…yet.”
Those three letters at the end of a self-defeating sentence change everything. They hold empowerment, potential, bravery, growth. They challenge even as they uplift: you might not be able to do it right now, but you will. You can figure it out. You can take a new direction. You can look at a problem and be unable to solve it…yet.
In the year Olivia spent in Mrs. Pearson’s class, she came into herself. Her confidence soared, her anxiety receded, and even her scores bounced up. Now, she feels confident to face things she can’t do, in the knowledge that she just needs a little patience and persistence. She can’t do it…yet. Tomorrow, who knows?
What can’t you do…yet?
Every single one of us has had moments when we feel beaten down by tasks ahead. We’ve all had moments when we’re facing something that seems impossible. This year, I’m taking a page out of Mrs. Pearson’s book, though, and asking whether I really can’t do it or whether I just can’t do it yet.
The yet makes it so that a new task, or a new challenge, isn’t just a matter of being perfect. Instead, we work for our success, a little bit at a time. We might not get it right the first time – or the second, or the third. We might take missteps. We might be defeated.
That word, though, reminds me of the potential in everything. A website I don’t know how to tackle, yet, becomes an opportunity to problem-solve with one of my team. A piece of copy I don’t know how to approach, yet, becomes an opportunity to talk with my copywriter. A new Kinship project I can’t envision, yet, becomes a fast-paced creative team meeting. With the yet, I can feel vulnerable and safe at the same time. I don’t have to pretend to know everything. Instead, I have a space where I can be comfortable with discomfort.
What are you tackling these days? What is your inner critic claiming you can’t do? I’ll bet, if you break down whatever feels defeating, you can find its component parts. You can’t connect with local customers. You can’t get a following on Instagram. You can’t find a photographer who tells your story in the way you’d like.
I’m no Mrs. Pearson, but I’ve tried to learn from her powerful faith in mindset. As I work with clients, I borrow her word, but more importantly, I borrow her belief. I believe deeply in small business, and small business owners. Even if you don’t have a Mrs. Pearson in your life, I believe in you. I know you can do what you set your mind to.
Today, you have an “I can’t.”
What first step can you can take towards “I can”?