Lisa Robbin Young

It's report card time around here. My youngest is struggling in gym class. Sadly, I've seen it before with his older brother.

"Won't even attempt new activities," the report card reads.

So hubby and I sat down with our 8 year old to find out what's going on.

"I can't do it." He said. "I'm not good at it."

It can be hard to try something new. And even harder to be GOOD at it - especially when you've never done it before. That doesn't mean you can't do it.

Try telling that to an 8 year old... oh wait, we did!

You say you "can't" - but...

...what you really mean is that you've never done it well before.

Like when you say you can't sing. Yes. you can. Anyone with a functional voice box can sing. Even my husband, who can't carry a tune in a lead-lined bucket can sing SOME songs.  You just have to find the right ones. Maybe you aren't Pavarotti, but even Madonna doesn't sound like Madonna (thanks, autotune).

So often we use the words "I can't" as code for "I'm not good enough" or "I don't know how." As we talked with our kid, it became apparent this was a case of being afraid to look foolish or be wrong in public. It was also a case of not being willing to ask for help to learn how to do something (or do it better).

Curse the English language!

We have gotten used to so much linguistic short hand, that we're actually programming our brains to believe something isn't possible, when, in actuality, it is. As entrepreneurs, we need to reclaim our truth and speak it without shorthand.

"I don't feel comfortable doing this, because I'm not as good as I would like to be."

"I don't know how to do it (or do it well). Can you help me?"

I've shortened my learning curve immensely in life and business by asking for help, yet, I'm the same person that still struggles with asking for help with things I think I "should" know already.

Living in "The Shoulds"

"The Shoulds" are a comfortable state of paralysis that most of us visit from time to time. It goes like this:

"I should really work out more." But you don't.

"I should really look for a new job." But you don't.

"My mother in law says I should spend more time reading to my kids." But you don't.

"My clients think I should offer evening appointments." But you don't.

And my all-time favorite: "I should already know this by now." But you don't.

In short, "The Shoulds" are a laundry list of to-do's that you have yet to accomplish - either because you don't really want to do them, or because you haven't yet figured out HOW to do them. It's a limbo-land that keeps you from taking action, and only diminishes our value as humans an entrepreneurs.

It's normal. we all go there from time to time. The trick is to keep our visits short. Otherwise, we're creating unrealistic expectations of ourselves. When we have an expectation of our capabilities that doesn't match our reality, two things happen:

  1. We get frustrated with ourselves.
  2. We get display disempowering emotions to others (fear, anger, resentment, etc.)

Rather than root out the cause (living in "The Shoulds"), we keep beating ourselves up - over and over - until something happens. And that "something" isn't always helpful. If we're lucky, we've got a support system to help us see we're in "The Shoulds" and can point it out to us. But even that's not going to help you if you keep beating yourself up saying "Dangit! I knew I was in The Shoulds! I keep doing that! Gah!"

What are those "beliefs" that are conditioning you to stay paralyzed? How are they holding you back? What would happen if you looked at it as if the opposite was true?

What if you shouldn't already know this by now?

What if you shouldn't offer evening appointments? What if you need to find clients who prefer your current schedule?

There is great freedom in admitting that you don't know everything.

(click to tweet)


That's the other type of "can't" we're talking about: when something really isn't possible within the understanding of human experience at this moment.

1,000 years ago, man couldn't fly or use the Internet. They hadn't been invented yet! So to tell someone to hop online and check your email would probably get you blank stares. "I can't" is an appropriate response in that case.

But the more accurate response for most anything today is "I don't know how yet."

Keep all your priorities in alignment while growing your business?

"I don't know how yet."

Make six, seven, or eight, figures (as PROFIT, not just income).

"I don't know how yet."

You get the idea.

Yes, being willing to acknowledge that you don't already know everything means there's a slight possibility that you'll be a target for ridicule. But that's rare. More often,what happens by saying "I don't know how yet" is that you open doors to new learning, new experiences, new connections, colleagues, friends - and yes, clients - by being willing to learn how.

That was the lesson my 8 year old had to learn. That yes, sometimes the mean kids will make fun of how he throws the dodge ball, but by asking for help, he'll get better at throwing the dodge ball and be able to bean the mean kids out during the game.

Perhaps that's not the best way to illustrate that lesson, but I think you understand my point. Sometimes, we need to "bean" the nay-sayers in our lives, and the only way to do that effectively is to get really good at what they're telling us we can't do.

Even if we are our own nay-sayer. Sometimes I need a good beaning, myself (just ask my husband!).

Where are you saying "can't" when you're really living in "The Shoulds? What can you do today to get clarity around a particular "should" and either decide to take action or decide to let it go? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you're ready to get help with moving out of "The Shoulds" consider a Next Steps session to help you get some clarity.