Recently, scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a post about the wonderful word can’t.
If you say you cant, you are only bullshitting yourself
(As much as I would have loved to shown you the original tweet, the user has long since left Twitter.)
You ignore the little bit of swearing, but of course I had to reply.
If I hear the word can’t, my brain goes, “Watch me!” “You can’t get lost,” meanwhile 2 hrs drive in the wrong direction.
.@russellnohelty If I hear the word can't, my brain goes, "Watch me!" "You can't get lost," meanwhile 2 hrs drive in the wrong direction.— Judy L Mohr (@JudyLMohr) May 11, 2016
Of course, that little bit of interaction sparked a whole conversation that demanded an explanation, so here goes…
For as long as I can remember, my mother always told me that whenever someone told me that I couldn’t do something to react with a “Watch Me!”
“You’re a girl, so you’re not capable of high-level math.”
I’m a qualified mechanical engineer with straight A’s all the way through high school and top marks in university mathematics.
“You’re a girl, so you can’t do engineering.”
I’m a fourth generation engineer, and the three generations before me… My father, his mother, her father. You read that correctly folks. My grandmother was also an engineer. She paved the way for women like me.
“You’ll never get your PhD.”
Well, I showed them.
My whole life, whenever I hear some version of can’t, the subconscious kicks in and does whatever is needed to turn that can’t into a can. However, this is not always a good thing.
When I was 20, I was working as a summer engineering intern at a dairy processing plant in Edgecumbe, New Zealand. It’s a small little community, little backwater town. I didn’t own a car, so I lived in Edgecumbe itself, walking to the factory everyday for work.
As part of my job, I was to conduct a noise pollution analysis of both the plant in Edgecumbe and the other plant owned by the same company in Tauranga. The boss loaned me his car for the day, so I could conduct the tests needed, however, I had no idea where I was going.
The boss had drawn me a map, showing me all the turn-offs that I needed to take to drive directly to the plant in Tauranga. It was hand-drawn, no landmarks, no distances, just lines. This was never going to be a good thing. It had disaster written all over it. Then the boss said something that he shouldn’t have.
“It’s a direct route to the plant. You can’t get lost.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Are you sure about that?”
“100%. You can’t get lost.”
Driving down the road and I take the first turn-off as indicated on the map. After driving for about an hour, the road turned into a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere. There was no way that was right. The boss said it was straight shot to the factory, and with all the tankers that went back and forth between Tauranga and Edgecumbe everyday, there was no way that I should have been driving on a dirt road. I WAS LOST!
(See tell me can’t, and I do.)
I searched through the car for a road map, something not hand-drawn. The only map I found was for Auckland. A fat lot of good that was going to do me in the Bay of Plenty.
I did the best I could to try to navigate back to where I should have been, but that’s when things really turned ugly. Dirty road, lost driver, extremely late. I spun out and slammed the driver’s side into something hard and solid that came halfway up the driver’s door. (I think I hit my head as the car started to roll too. Thankfully, it didn’t.)
Of course, I was panicking. I was lost with no clue where I was, and I had just crashed the boss’s nice, shiny car. I pulled out the boss’s cellphone (he had loaned me that too, because I didn’t own one of my own at the time) and made the dreaded call. I told him the car was still drivable, it had to be, because there was no way I could get out of it with whatever I crashed up against keeping the driver’s door shut. So, he advised me to continue driving to Tauranga and they could look at it.
I got to my destination, after having to get a flat repaired along the way (something else that wasn’t good news for the trip because the spare was also flat; the boss had changed a flat on the car only a few days prior and hadn’t had the opportunity to get the spare repaired), and met with the engineer, only several hours late. (At least he asked if I was okay.) I conducted the noise analysis tests, then drove back to Edgecumbe, and gave the boss back his keys and his cellphone.
The following day was the debrief. Well… I didn’t just crash the car. The estimated damage meant that the car was a write-off. The boss pulled out a map of the region, an actual printed map, one that I wished I had in the car in the first place. I was to attempt to identify where the accident occurred, so he could inform the insurance company. Not good. Instead of heading toward Tauranga, I was on a little back road heading toward Rotorua.
“How could you possibly get so lost?”
“Well, I did warn you that I don’t know this area. The only map I could find in the car was of Auckland.”
“Auckland is such a confusing place to drive in. I need a map.”
“I’m from Auckland.”
The boss just stared at me. You could see it in his eyes: the idiocy of his words had sunk in.
The next time that I had to make that drive, and the boss lent me his car, he handed me a proper map of the area. And he never said can’t to me again.
Twenty years later and I look back at those events with fondness, even if it was a driving accident. It is just a lasting reminder how my subconscious hears the word can’t, then decides to prove the guilty doomsayer wrong.
Even in recent times, I have heard people tell me can’t.
“You can’t be a professional editor and actually make money.”
Black Wolf Editorial Services has only been operational since December 2015, but has already turned a profit, granted a tiny one, but it has still made money.
“You can’t submit that story. A publisher will never take it. The only way it will ever be published is if you self-publish.”
Okay, I’m still waiting to prove this particular one wrong, but my subconscious won’t give in to the can’t monster.
I had concluded that original Twitter conversation about can’t, and my epic driving story, by saying the following:
But I’m the
#Kiwi that wants to fly, reaching for as high a goal as possible. I might be delusional, but I like my delusion.
@russellnohelty But I'm the #Kiwi that wants to fly, reaching for as high a goal as possible. I might be delusional, but I like my delusion.— Judy L Mohr (@JudyLMohr) May 11, 2016
For those of you who have big dreams, I’ll leave you with the one quote that hangs over my desk as a constant reminder:
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss… you’ll land among the stars.
P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016