I Can Do It When I Try
“I Can Do It When I Try”. That sounds like a self help book’s trite advice on success.
It is actually one of the choices I offered to my daughter a couple years ago when she was starting kindergarten. The other choice was “I Can’t”. I recall we were working on something relatively simple: writing the numbers one to ten. The details of the discussion with my five year old elude me today. However the main idea remains clear. Throughout life you must make a conscious choice many times. You can choose to say “I can do it when I try” or you can choose to say “I can’t“.
I kept trying to teach my daughter different ways to write the numbers. I repeatedly asked her to practice writing the numbers. Nothing was working and both of us grew increasingly frustrated. I did some version of the “if you are mad, count to ten before yelling”. That’s when I realized I was focusing on the wrong issue. Taking a step back, I understood that my daughter wasn’t trying to write her numbers at all. I can’t blame her – the exercise was pointless to a five year old. She didn’t care to write her numbers because it fulfilled no purpose in her five year old’s world.
That’s when I (temporarily) gave up working on the numbers exercise with my daughter. Instead I focused on one of the best life lessons you can learn at any age. You have to decide to care about something. You have to decide to try. If you don’t decide to try, it’s the same thing as deciding you can’t do something. You might as well make a conscious choice to do one or the other.
I laid out the options on the dry erase board we were using for our numbers practice. There were two options: “I can do it when I try” and “I can’t”. I asked my daughter to think about which one she wanted to pick. She had to check the box next to her choice and say her choice out loud. Just in case she decided to get clever and choose “I can’t”, I wanted her to have to say it out loud and admit that she can’t do something as simple as write ten numbers.
It sounds pretty ridiculous when you say you can’t do something, when you haven’t even tried it. Particularly if the task is something that could be learned or accomplished after some practice.
After flashing a little smirk and eliciting a smile from me, my daughter questioningly said “I can do it when I try”. At this point I realized we had something big. This was a saying one could chant! “I can do it when I try”! “I can do it when I try”! “I can do it when I try”!
She really got into this self motivational chanting. After repeating that phrase a few times, she was smiling, laughing, and confident that she could actually write her numbers from one to ten. Now that she made an affirmative decision to try.
She successfully completed practicing her numbers that day, and has gone on to great academic success. By that I mean she’s doing well in second grade right now.
Others Trying Hard
In the last week I have seen a few noteworthy articles on the importance of trying hard.
Nick at Pretired.org writes about football teams and those deep in debt facing similar obstacles.
Most people when faced with seemingly hopeless adversity simply give up. Sure, they may keep going through the motions. They may keep “trying.” But deep in their hearts, they haven’t adopted a winning mentality. A championship mentality.
You have to adopt that championship mentality if you really want to excel. You have to say “I can do it when I try” and mean it. Commit to it. Not just go through the motions.
Tom Corley at richhabits.net (and author of the book Rich Habits) writes about why you should never quit on a dream. Tom lists all the ways he has tried, but failed to gain media attention over the years. After tens of thousands of unsuccessful attempts, he finally makes a breakthrough.
If you were to add up all of the failures I’ve had, it would number close to 30,000 over the years. 30,000 failed attempts and four successes (NJ Star Ledger, Yahoo, Dave Ramsey and CBS). 4 for 30,000. Yet, I’m doing it. I’m succeeding. I’m making it happen.
Tom could have said “I can’t” many years ago, and he would have been absolutely right, had he given up trying. Instead, he persevered in the face of repeated failures. In the end, he has reached amazing success and continues to pursue his dreams. He can do it, when he tries.
In his article entitled “17 Things That Will Push You From Middle Class To First Class“, Johnny Moneyseed lays out 17 great ways to make your life better. Method #5: “Challenge Yourself. Set Goals. Plan.”
When I started this site my intention was to be able to retire within a 7 year period, by age 35. As time went on my cash flow has significantly increased, and my plans have been accelerated more than I could have imagined.
What type of voodoo sorcery pushed me toward success? The simple application of goal-setting.
Create a plan for the next year, next 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Once you write out a finite list of things that you want to accomplish, and make those goals a priority, you’ll find that you’ll become unstoppable.
Johnny is well on his way to retiring about the same time as I did. And with three kids like me (many think this is unpossible)! How often do you think Johnny Moneyseed said “I can’t”? He figured out all it takes is making a plan and trying hard to accomplish your goals.
Not long after I started blogging, I made a quick comment on someone else’s blog where they were discussing individual effort and hard work. I said
Failure is temporary. Giving up is permanent.
Big time personal finance blogger “J. Money” at budgetsaresexy.com noticed the quote and tweeted it to his followers. Then a number of his followers, including a Senator, retweeted the quote to their followers. At the time I made the off-hand comment, I didn’t really put much thought into it. But it is certainly true. You can fail over and over, but still succeed in the end, or at least learn a lot on each successive attempt. But once you give up, once you say “I can’t”, you resign yourself to defeat.
Repeat after me. I can do it when I try. When you are thinking about doing something difficult, or setting out on a new challenge, recite that little mantra to yourself and I bet you can actually do it. Maybe not on the first try, but eventually you will succeed.
You can apply this new-found “can do” attitude all over your life. You can try. Even if you fail once or multiple times, you can keep trying.
If you are unhappy in your job, don’t say “I can’t”. Get a new job or ask for a promotion or change of responsibilities at your current job. What’s the worst outcome? You are stuck in the same job you already dislike. The best? More money, different responsibilities, exciting opportunities.
Thinking about starting a new business or turning a side business or hobby into something you could pursue full time? Don’t immediately say “I can’t”. Put together a business plan, run it by your friends and contacts in your industry. Think hard about it. Refine your plan. If it still makes sense, pursue your dreams! You can do it when you try.
I decided to start this blog mostly on a whim. My goals were to have a little fun writing about subjects I find interesting, and make enough money to cover the hosting fees. I have certainly had fun writing and researching a number of articles here. Financially, I have far exceeded my revenue goals. Instead of Root of Good being a hobby that costs me money or barely breaks even, this blog might be something that can actually make money. In my first full month of blogging, my revenue was high enough to pay 13% of my household’s ongoing living expenses during retirement. When I started the blog two months ago, I didn’t know anything about the technology, what to write about, or how to promote my blog through social media. However, I can do it when I try.
Now that I’m retired, I have plenty of free time to pursue all kinds of interesting things. For example, I’m trying to get proficient in a few foreign languages. I decided to start with French to see how that goes. I’m using an online program to help me learn. Each module I complete gets progressively more difficult. The first 15 or 20 modules I completed successfully on the first try. Then I hit a brick wall and failed the same module over and over and over. It was frustrating, but I never said “I can’t”. That would be silly. Five year olds in France can speak French fluently after all. I kept practicing the difficult module until I passed it and then kept moving through the next few modules. Even as I failed the same module repeatedly, I learned the material better and better on each attempt. Even in failure there is success.
My own journey to financial independence and early retirement at age 33 wasn’t easy. It wasn’t exactly hard either. I put together a solid plan that would get me to retirement at a relatively early age and stuck to it. I knew where I was headed but not exactly when I would get there. I knew I could do it if I tried. I also knew that the downside of failing to reach my early retirement goal was pretty awesome. If I didn’t reach early retirement (or decided to keep working forever), at least I would have a really large investment portfolio that would definitely make life easier.
Trying to reach a goal and coming up a little short is still way better than not trying at all. Not trying means you fail. If you aren’t going to try, you might as well say “I can’t”. Make it explicit. You have to make a choice, and I personally favor “I can do it when I try”.
Readers, has anyone managed to overcome adversity and reached success when it seemed impossible?