A case of the n’ts

“Can’t never could do anything.”

That is just one pearl of wisdom my grandfather would impart with a fair amount of regularity. During my gloriously dramatic “woe is me” can’t-don’t-won’t moments, (which certainly must have been infrequent despite my grandfather’s consistent adage…!) my grandfather would slowly look up from what he was doing and quietly say, “Can’t never could do anything.” He would pause, look straight into your core and finish with “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

When I was really, really little, I believed Can’t was someone in my grandparent’s neighborhood. A neighbor who also lived on Loretto Avenue in that small town situated on the banks of the Ohio River. A town in which front porches were scrubbed twice daily to keep up with the billowing, dirty, dusty smoke stacks of the nearby steel mills. The steel mills which employed most of the male citizens of this small town. A town which required grit and determination to eek out a living.

A replica of one of the patented steel milling machines by grandfather helped develop

A replica of one of the patented steel milling machines by grandfather helped develop

While Can’t is clearly not a person, it is a state-of-mind. A state of mind foreign to my grandfather. Armed with a 6th grade education, he would go on to invent machinery that was patented by his employer. He would make certain he was able to send his three daughters to college. He would cheer on his friends, neighbors and his family in endeavors big and small. My grandfather believed in grit and determination. My grandfather believed in the power of people to be and do anything.

Every now and again it’s absolutely acceptable to sit in those gloriously dramatic can’t-won’t-don’t moments. If you sit too long though, you’ll quickly be covered in the dust of the world’s on-the-go smoke stacks and require a good mopping to reveal the perfectly, perfect you who can be and do anything you set your mind to!

Hello Can! Welcome to the neighborhood!

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Gritty, grimey and glorious

Featured on a banner that prominently hung in my daughter’s school gymnasium were the words:

“If you had fun, you won”

My daughter received the most amazing education from this school.  A school positively, hands down, invested in helping children discover their gifts and talents.  At the same time challenging them to find their own voice, their own north star.  It is also a school that recognizes that one size of teaching does not fit all.

The aforementioned prominently displayed banner, however, is at head scratchingly odds with the school’s philosophy and value system.

The banner became a source of complete irritation and frustration for me.  I fantasized about sneaking into the school late at night and climbing on a ladder to reach the banner with a can of spray paint.  A can of spray paint obtained from the hardware store that I would have promised the clerk, as she was unlocking it from its storage space, that I would absolutely not, under any emotions of irritation or frustration, graffiti the misguided banner at the school’s gymnasium with the words:

“If you lost, you lost”

As I was paying for my spray paint, I would continue to assure the clerk that I would most definitely not add the words:

“Suck it up.  You just learned.”

Some of the greatest lessons come in the form of losing.  In the United States it seems as though we have placed an unhealthy, almost obsessive emphasis on winning.

"Winners" medal

“Winners” medal

We are inundated with the “winner winner chicken dinner” mind-set from reality television shows to sports to award ceremonies.  As parents we might even be accused of manically protecting our children from any circumstance in which they might not experience 100% success – a la, the ole’ “If you had fun, you won” banner or worse yet, medal!

In not allowing ourselves, our work teammates and our children to experience the gift of losing and avoiding healthy discussions about losing, we become robbed of the opportunity to learn.  This winning obsession also negates the opportunity to consider and honor the laden-filled gems of knowledge and wisdom indigenous to losing.

The grittiness and grime that comes from losing is merely the greasing of the skids for your next project and your next idea.  What’s keeping you from diving into the brilliant grit and grime of losing?