Because I Was Told I Can
by Jan Graham
About 6 months ago, I joined a gym. Every morning, there is one personal trainer there that works out at the same time that my little group does our workout. He does his "routine" with such a quiet determination that he makes it all look very easy; although I know all too well how hard he is working. When I am tempted to whine and quit, I watch him push himself to his own limits, and I find myself motivated to work as hard and without complaint.
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching him do chin ups. He made them look effortless. I broke away from my group and asked him if I could try a chin up. I had never tried before, but he just made it look so easy. He eagerly stepped aside and encouraged me to step up to the bar. I pulled myself up without thinking...once...then twice. That was all I had in me, I had no strength left. I told him that was all I had, so he stepped up behind me and pushed me up for a third and fourth "pull." It felt so good. I felt strong and I smiled from ear to ear.
The next day when I was done my workout, I asked him to spot me again. Again, I did two. Again on day three and so on. I thought it was pathetic that I could only do two, but when I came to the gym at the end of the week, he was standing there just shaking his head. When I asked him what was up, he said he was impressed with my chin ups. He told me that when they are training firefighters, the men are required to do 5 chin ups, and women are required to do 1 or 2. He explained that most people can't do them at all, and that he was impressed that I could. He further told me that if I practiced every day, I would be doing 5 or 6 in no time. At this point I should probably add that I am 50 years old...and female.
The moral of this story...because I didn't know any better, because he told me I could, I saw no reason to doubt. I just jumped in and gave it a try - and I did it! I didn't see it as a great accomplishment, because I didn't realize that it was difficult and it became my goal to get stronger. No one told me I couldn't do it, in fact, I was encouraged to try. Had he told me initially how difficult it was, I more than likely would not have tried at all. Or I might have tried, but given it only half an effort, because failure would have been the expectation. I applaud him for letting me believe that for me, it was not only a possibility, but that success was a realistic expectation.
How many times have we decided not to try at all because we were told that we couldn't, that we shouldn't, that we had expectations that were too ambitious? How many times have we told our children, our friends and our co-workers that they couldn't do something; that their ideas were impossible or beyond reach? How many times have we told ourselves that we would fail before we even started?
I started to ponder examples that I had witnessed and this came to mind...I recalled a conversation a friend of mine had with his daughter just prior to her heading off to university. He spoke to her (with good intentions) of how hard she would have to work in order to succeed. University wasn't like High School - this was the real world and now she would have to grow up. This child quit after two years. Another friend spoke to her daughter of the adventure she was embarking on and how proud she was. I remember how we laughed because the mother already had her outfit picked out for convocation day! This child just graduated with her degree in physiology. Looking back, neither daughter was more intelligent than the other. Was it the silent expectations (or lack thereof) that predicted the outcome?
I have a new approach now. I have experienced first hand how good it feels to rush in so innocently. To believe that we CAN do it and go on to accomplish exactly what we set out to do, because no one told us we couldn't. I've learned how important it is to support others (and ourselves) in our endeavors and to let them know that we believe they can do it rather than telling them we think that they can't.
I personally want to be like my trainer; standing there behind the people that I love, encouraging them, believing in them and being ready to catch them when they get tired. I will be the one that is there on the second and third day making sure they try again, because I know they CAN.
What a powerful lesson this has been for me. I'll be doing "5" in no time at all. Because I was told I CAN.
Reprinted with permission from the author
About the Author
Jan Graham is a realtor in Calgary, Alberta. She is a single mom to three amazing young women (23, 21 and 20). Feel free to email her your thoughts on this story to: jan.graham at telus.net or visit her website at: www.jangraham.ca
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