With the holiday season going full-tilt and barely time to breathe,
I find myself accomplishing much more than seems possible.   
There’s a little trick I use to do this. My strategy is to imagine the end
I wish to achieve and not worry about the means. I let my sub- conscious
mind work out the details, which results in an interesting combination of
creativity, concentration, and some old-fashioned nose-to-the-
grindstone determination.
If I make up my mind, then I persist until it is done.
This method works for almost anything I decide I want to do.

I tried explaining this to a friend who constantly whines, “I can’t,”
when referring to doing things outside her comfort zone. She tries to
attribute superhuman abilities to me, as a way of bolstering her claim
that I am able to do things most people “can’t.” This is supposed to
somehow absolve her of having to reach within to find that extra
oomph she needs to make things happen.

I can tell you right now, there is nothing superhuman about me.
Making an effort to accomplish something difficult is sometimes
exhausting and painful, and I feel the pain, like everyone else.
I just happen to believe that persistence and determination are the
keys to personal success, whatever that is for each individual.

Last year I decided to try contact lenses because I hate my world
circumscribed by a frame that is clear on the inside and fuzzy on the
outside. I had difficulty getting the lenses in and wondered if I could
learn to do this. Finally, the technician took out some photos and said,
“Okay, look. See this patient of ours? She has learned to put them in.
You can do this.”

I looked at the photos and nearly fell out of my chair. That
young woman had no arms. She was putting her contacts in with her
feet and toes. It took me about one minute, after seeing those photos, to
get them in. The technician told me this 23 year old woman also flies
airplanes. How does she do it? She sure doesn’t do it by resorting to
that tired old phrase, “I can’t.”

Neither does the armless woman in an emailed video clip someone
sent me earlier this year. That woman is a mother, who takes great care
of her baby, changing, feeding, comforting, cuddling, holding, and
transporting the baby with her feet, all without help.

A few years ago I lived next door to a woman in her late seventies who
told me a remarkable story. When she was around age 60, she had a
stroke that put her in a wheel chair for several years. Her husband
wheeled her everywhere and cooked her meals every day. By the time
she reached age 65, he got cancer and started feeling weak and ill. As
he
deteriorated, she realized that soon he would no longer be able to care
for her and, ironically, he would need care.

“I literally willed myself out of that chair,” she told me, very matter-
of-factly.

“How did you do that?”

“I had no choice,” she said. “I focused on it everyday. After a while, I
was still weak, but I started walking. By the time he needed me most, I
was out of that chair for good. Soon it was me wheeling him around,
instead of him wheeling me.” Out of sheer desperation, and a deep
love for her husband, she eventually became a strong and mobile
person.    She couldn’t afford to have the phrase, “I can’t,” in her
vocabulary.

Of course, there are times we truly can’t do something. Other times,
“I can’t” is a cover for “I won’t” or “I don’t want to,” and means
letting someone down, or worse. How often in my teaching experiences
have I seen parents willing to sacrifice their children, rather than
face their own failings, or try to rise above their limitations? Instead of
bucking up and being there fully for the child, protecting and providing
for them, paying attention to changes that might indicate trouble or
problems, demanding and expecting correct behavior, keeping close
watch
over their children, making sure they get their homework done, and
assisting when needed, these parents blame the schools for their
children’s failure to learn, for their bad behavior, and sometimes
purposely
thwart school officials in their efforts to correct what amounts to parent-
induced or parent-enabled problems. These parents do not help their
children come to school ready to cooperate and learn, a necessary
prerequisite to educational success.

The damage done by parents who “can’t” is immeasurable. In one
school district where I taught music, a number of parents spent time
daily in the local bars. I had a very sweet, hard-working student who
used a school instrument but could not come up with the $15 band fee
until the end of the school year. He informed me that his parents could
not afford to pay it, so he had saved his own money and paid it himself.

Shortly thereafter, I was to meet several teachers in one of the local
bars for a farewell to well-liked colleague. As I waited, a partially sloshed
couple shooting pool decided to introduce themselves to me; they were
the parents of the student mentioned above. They ordered drinks for
themselves, then, as they waited for their order, warmly praised my work
and thanked me for teaching their son how to play his instrument. As I
spoke briefly with them, I was aware that they were probably spending
more than their son’s yearly band fee in a single round of drinks; I
wondered how many times they would repeat that behavior during
the evening.

Through the years I have met many adults who have stories about their
parents who lived the “I can’t” lifestyle. Parents who drank or used
drugs; were suicidal and didn’t manage to succeed in ending their lives
over and over again; neglected their child’s physical and emotional
needs; fought loud and long, oblivious to those around them; physically,
emotionally, or sexually abused the children; and on and on. The
damage
these self-centered people have wreaked is endless and is passed on,
generation after generation. The pattern only stops when someone
says, “I can, and I will.”

As I go through this year’s round of holidays, culminating with
New Year’s Day, I find myself evaluating and re-thinking what I want
to adjust and change in my own life. I am digging down deep for my
own “can’ts” so that I can improve not only my life, but the lives of
those around me; family, friends, colleagues, and students. It’s got to
be easier than flying an airplane without arms!

I CAN do this, and I WILL.

I want to wish each and every one of you the best holiday
season ever!    Happy Hanukkah, Merry, Merry Christmas, and
Happy New Year
May those dreams
Most destined to come true
Be the ones most dreamed by you!
Reflections for the New Year

by Holly Whitman
Copyright December 2006.

Whether you think you can
or you think you can’t,
you are right
– Henry Ford
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