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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 7, 2019

“I Can’t.”

Julie Q. Brush

There isn’t a phrase I like less than…“I can’t”. I literally wince every time I hear it. And when it comes to careers, professionals use this expression far too often.

• I can’t ask for a raise because I don’t want to be perceived as difficult or greedy
• I can’t leave a job I don’t like because I don’t know what else I would do
• I can’t leave a job that causes me misery because I need the money
• I can’t ask this person or that person for help because I don’t know him/her that well
• I can’t develop a book of business because I’m not good at it
• I can’t change industries because nobody will hire me
• I can’t apply for this job because I don’t have the exact number of years of experience
• I can’t work in a law firm because I’ll have to bill 2400 hours a year
• I can’t do something I like better because I won’t be able to pay my bills
• I can’t be a General Counsel because I’m a litigator
• I can’t move in house because I’m a law firm partner
• I can’t compete in the employment market because I’m too old

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. It’s a defeatist statement…and a mentality backed by excuses that reinforce the lack of belief in one’s own ability and power. Granted, not everything has a “sky’s the limit” tagline. But many times, “I can’t” is often driven by flawed factors including (1) lack of accurate market information; (2) lack of knowledge or confidence regarding how to achieve a desired goal; (3) as a pretext for other desires; and (4) Fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the effort, fear of being happy etc. Regardless of which driver is at play, a declaration of “I can’t” can be sabotaging – and compromise a career as well as chip away at self-esteem.

So the next time the expression comes to mind or voice, determine what’s behind it before throwing in the towel – and ask yourself the following questions:

• On what facts am I basing my belief that “I can’t”? Specifically.
• What additional facts could I gather to gain more clarity on the issue?
• Do I have any fears regarding this situation or the outcome? If so, what are they?
• Am I making this statement because I don’t know how to achieve this goal?
• Are there any possible solutions that can address my fears or overcome my current objections? If so, what are they? If I’m not sure, are there any professional resources that can help me identify them?
• Are there alternative approaches available to help me achieve the result I want? If so, what is the strategy to get there? If I don’t know the strategy, are there professional resources that can assist me to create one?
• What’s the Worst Case Scenario if I try anyway?

Thoughtfully assessing the questions above helps create a framework to see an “I can’t” situation more clearly – and can pave the way for a more positive mindset and outcome. The insights can also unearth other motives or desires that may be the source of the negativity. And can highlight possible solutions/alternative approaches to tackle a difficult predicament…All benefits that can empower professionals to problem-solve rather than concede quickly to the why nots.

But perhaps more importantly, this exercise demonstrates that a person’s professional state of affairs are largely the products of his/her own choices. And “I can’t” is often more about “I choose not to” than it is about anything else. This realization may provide relief and strength to some…and discomfort to others. But it’s a reality that can be of great benefit if accepted and utilized in a positive way. So exorcize this statement from your verbal repertoire and replace it with something more empowering. And you’ll notice the impact. You can do it!

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