Our Battle with Can't, Isn't and the Other N Apostrophe T's
When I was a kid, then into my 20’s, and even now in in middle age I would be visited by N Apostrophe T (n’t). Sometimes these were smaller thoughts – I can’t dance, or I shouldn’t be on that panel – or bigger thoughts – they wouldn’t hire me for that job, or I don’t see a life where I can be happy. I’ve worked my way through many of the n’ts. Much of life ultimately is about how we respond to our self-sabotage and untangle these knots of doubt.
Some of these beliefs have fossilized and serve as an impediment of growth. I’ve just started to take on one of these murky n’t thoughts hidden in the shadows of my psyche. It’s the one that makes me uncomfortable on video and therefore say “I can’t” to new opportunities. I’ve decided to tear down this video limitation publicly and to offer you insight into that process. More about that in a moment.
A good number of years ago, nearing a decade now, I was given the task by my fellow founders at our start-up to write frequently on social media to promote our work, yet in a prior founder experience I had been told that I was an absolutely awful writer and should focus my time on areas where I had some talent. I heard that, believed it, and internalized it. The words of my peer at the time became my new truth and I avoided writing. For a new approach, I started where I usually do when looking up at my mountain of self-doubt: unearth the fossilized notion of what I currently wasn’t or couldn’t be – a writer.
I got help.
I spoke with my friend Celeste Hamilton Dennis, a journalist, one New Year’s Eve and she offered some advice about developing a writing practice and assured me that it was well within my reach. I had a similar conversation with another friend Stefanie Cruz, a digital strategist, and she assured me that my perspective mattered. They helped my gain the confidence that I had ideas that would help people and an ability to consistently create content.
Finally, I continue to rely on another friend and writing coach, Matt Davis. Matt gently bolstered my confidence and helped me to see what was possible and did so incrementally. He was always direct, but also extremely kind when I struggled. I did struggle. Sometimes I still struggle.
Matt helped me to develop a routine, prioritize what needed to be done, and helped me to see that I was making progress even if I couldn’t always see that progress myself. He weened me off my reliance on him and some less helpful tendencies that I have as a writer. Even so, I do like to start a sentence with And and never met an ellipsis I didn’t like… I still turn to Matt, but these days our conversations are much less about the writing and more about everything else.
It took people I knew, respected, and trusted to help me. The result has led to many things from being recognized as a Generation Z Influencer on LinkedIn to publishing weekly for the Washington Post Jobs section. I don’t think I am the best writer ever, but it doesn’t scare me the way it once did. The words my long-ago colleague once shared no longer have the power they did over me. I got rid of that n’t.
Now I’m about to take on another limiting belief. I’m preparing to start using video as a way to communicate. This makes me deeply uncomfortable. However, I think that this is important to me and important for you to see.
- To be human is to be messy and to be challenged. You get to decide which challenges you are going to resolve and which ones you might let remain. You do have a choice beyond what you think you can’t do.
- No matter your age you can decide to be better at something. Each day is a possibility to depart on that journey of improvement.
- Where or how you get support is up to you but resist the urge to do the hard things alone. There are people who love you and want to see you succeed. Please let them do so.
- Resist the impulse to allow the big broad thoughts about your ability to do important things – for example, manage others, communicate, be seen as a leader. You need to be a cheerleader for yourself. There are plenty of others who will show up and give you n’ts, don’t add yourself to the list. That’s a wall you can get help tearing down.
As much as I have carried this sense of myself as more of a disembodied voice, I will be wrangling with that for the next few weeks via an online platform called BetterOn with the support of my coach Ryan.
I’ll be coming back in a few weeks to share what I’ve learned. Meanwhile you are welcome to take a look at the first video we’ve created from before I started HERE.
I hope that these words and the forthcoming videos sharing my journey inspire you take your own.