By Madeleine St. Marie

Over the summer, I worked at a summer camp. Occasionally, we would take our kids to do some gymnastics. Before the kids were able to take the mat, the head coach gave them a lecture on the rules and regulations of the gym. The most striking rule, for me, had to do with permitted language. Of course, curse words were not allowed, like “jerk” or “buttface” or any other adorable swear words that I hadn’t heard since I was 9. But there was one phrase that would absolutely, positively would not be tolerated: “I can’t.”

I was a bit taken aback, but it was a pleasant surprise. “How wonderful,” I thought, “that this is the lesson that we’re teaching our kids.” It reminded me of the lessons that my parents taught me and my brother and sister growing up. Sure, there were lots of things we weren’t supposed to do – drugs, staying out late, eating fast food (Hi, Mom!) – but we were never told that we couldn’t accomplish something. When it came to athletics or school, we could accomplish anything we wanted, as long as we tried. Well, except perhaps for math. I don’t think any amount of positive thinking and willpower would have drastically changed my math skills. But we could definitely play soccer, get 5s on AP tests, play musical instruments, dance, and join the swim team, dream to the be the president or a firefighter or a teacher, whatever.

I was given an object lesson about limitations when I started middle school. I was, to probably no one’s surprise, a huge tomboy. I liked playing sports, I liked being good, and what’s more, I liked playing with the boys. This had been fine and dandy in elementary school, but middle school boys were a different breed. I was teased for being a boy and was generally miserable until the 8th grade when all of a sudden, it was ok for me to be athletic again. It was the first time I had been told that I could not and really should not be doing something. The teasing really wrecked my self-esteem growing up, so it really meant a lot to me that the gymnastic coach would start telling these little boys and girls that they could do anything that they wanted, if they put their minds to it, regardless of gender.

So what I would like to suggest is that we take a cue from the kids and take “I can’t” out of our vocabulary. To accomplish great things in life, you have to face down some imposing obstacles. They might take a long time to overcome. But your defeat will be instantaneous the moment you think “I can’t.”

We get scared to try new things because we don’t want to be bad or look stupid or worst of all, fail. Since I started teaching Zumba, you have no idea how many times I’ve heard “I can’t dance.” I don’t know about you, but I did not pop out of my mother able to dance. I had to work at it. I never said “I can’t” when it came to dance, I only worked harder. When I first started kickboxing, I couldn’t do a roundhouse kick properly. It drove me crazy. But I didn’t give up, because it never occurred to me that I couldn’t learn how to kick.

Think about it: how many times has a friend or relative complained about their weight, and when you offered a suggestion, replied that for one reason or another, they couldn’t do it? Problems like that are not going to go away by simply wishing or complaining about it a lot. The people who won Stacey’s Shred didn’t say “I can’t.” Our Beasts of the Week, Bruce and Glen, weren’t honored because they say “I can’t.” These are the people that grit their teeth and shout “I can!”, even if they know full well that going will get tough along the way.

So when you try something new, don’t say “I can’t.” When you’re asked to do jump squats, don’t think “I can’t.” Think “I can”, and you’ll be amazed how much further you’ll go.