<Ummm…can you repeat that one more time, please?>
If you are worth your weight in salt about anything and everything business-related, can’t is a word that is not only in your vocabulary, but is a word you use as your first line of response.
Words are often typecast. As a society, we move in and out of trends when it comes to words—a lot like Justin Bieber moves in and out of hairstyles. I’m fairly certain that what groovy meant 50 years ago doesn’t apply today. Similarly, I’m equally as certain that sick, dope, #WINNING, following, and friends have changed societal meanings, too. Their definitions in Webster’s Dictionary haven’t changed; instead, the slang usage and meaning of the words have evolved. More and more, we are adapting to a slang-driven vocabulary rather than a proper-English-driven one. And contrary to your inner voice, it’s not just teenagers and the uneducated using slang. Slang itself doesn’t carry the same meaning it did 10 years ago, let alone 50.
Yet there are two words that haven’t changed: can and can’t.
I, like you, have read plenty of books and listened to plenty of smarter people talk about motivation, a can-do attitude, not taking no for an answer, etc. But some of the best lessons I have learned in my business have come from the polar opposite: a can’t-do attitude. The reasons you have to be able to hear and understand the word can’t are because your most valuable asset depends on it: time. It is the one asset you have that cannot be replenished.
Think of it in terms of a number: 1,440, or the total number of minutes you’re given each day. At the end of the day, time takes away every last minute you didn’t use. There is no roll over, no refunds. This isn’t AT&T. And because time is so valuable, a vital part of your business is hearing and saying the word can’t.
I consider myself a learner. I’m always trying to pick someone’s brain. If I’m ever the smartest person in the room, I feel out of place. And one of the best lessons I’ve learned to date is to acknowledge the desire to hear the word can’t. The word can’t places limitations on things that we otherwise wouldn’t place on ourselves. Think about it. Why did you give up on dunking a basketball on a 10-foot goal? Why did you give up on going back in time and treating girlfriend #11, aka “The One,” better? Because you simply and irrefutably can’t. Gravity and physics told you so.
Can’t is what was eating at your brain when you were trying to juggle more than one start-up. Can’t is what was yelling in your ear when your client asked if you could do that new thing. Can’t is what was staring you down, face-to-face, when you were deciding if you should mix business and pleasure. Can’t is a very specific word that we have at our disposal in our vocabulary. More importantly, can’t is the word that those business friends you admire, depend on, or go to for advice will say at what can best be described as the “right time.”
Shelly has been one of those business friends who said can’t to me at the right time. More than once. You see…those who believe in you the MOST absolutely will tell you can’t. And they’ll say it more than once. These are the people who have the wherewithal and the stones (figuratively, of course) to stop you in your tracks – usually RIGHT when you need to be stopped, too. Don’t get me wrong—there are times you need to learn for yourself, gain the experience of failure, and develop your own radar for what you can and can’t do. Miraculously enough, those business friends you depend on always seem to know which experience you’re in. Is it a learning lesson during which you’re sharpening your teeth in the business world? (As obvious as it is to them, they know this time they can’t step in.) Or is it a mentoring moment where they should speak up? (As oblivious as you are, they know right when they can step in.) It’s eerie.
We all get drunk on our own Kool-Aid. It’s only a matter of time—and your consumption habits—before you’ll be drunk on your own concoction again.
So what’s my wish for you as you’re about to imbibe? That you have someone in your corner who isn’t afraid to tell you that you can’t.
Ryan is the owner of Cox Consulting – a digital marketing and social media marketing firm. They run the gambit of online marketing and have a love for data and conversions. Ryan is fascinated with words so he has a blog. He does tweet, too, and quite frequently, so follow him here.