Sunday, August 28, 2011


The kids and I were watching a favorite movie of mine, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” last night.

It’s based on the true story of Chris Garnder who, hard on his luck, becomes homeless with his five year old son. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it. While playing basketball with his son, Gardner says:

“Don't ever let somebody tell you... You can't do something.  You got a dream... You gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it. Period.”

I turned up the volume to about 50 and asked the kids, “Did you hear that?”

Kids: “Uh, yeah. It was kind of loud.”
Me: “But, do you get it? Do you see what he means that you should never give up?
Kids: “Uh, yeah. Okay. Can we have some more chocolate chips in a bowl?”

Later, after the chocolate chips were put away, and the kids were snug in their beds, I contemplated the quote. When someone tells us we can’t/shouldn’t do something or that we are not good enough, we can have one of two responses:

  1. Believe them and prove them right. This is when you give up and think, “Yeah, they’re right. Who was I to even think I could do that anyway?” You see this all the time when a parent, coach or teacher tells a child that they are “bad”. The kid responds with “Let me show you just how bad a I can be,” and lives out the self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. Believe in yourself and prove them wrong.

Guess which option I like better?

Most of the time we are told we can’t do things by people who love and care about us, but want to protect us. They do not intend to be discouraging, they intend to take care of us. I can think of two incidents in my life where I was told I couldn't/shouldn’t do something I really wanted to do.

The first time was when I was 23. After a long application process, I had been accepted into the Peace Corps to go to West Africa (Mali) to teach people about forestry: planting gardens and such. I had absolutely not one minute of experience in this field, but still wanted to go for the experience. My mom, doing the job of being a mother, let me know she questioned if I could and should do this. While I saw her as discouraging me from a dream, she saw it as being a mother bear and protecting her young from what could have been a stressful and miserable two year commitment. In the end, I didn’t go. I’ll never know if this was the “right” choice or not. It was just the road not taken. But, seriously, can you imagine me planting fields in Mali? At least I could do some serious fertilizing!

The second time this happened, was just a few months ago, and you will remember it well if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile. I got a stress fracture in my hip in October 2010. My doctor, a competitive runner, knew I had registered for the Boston Marathon for April of 2011. He supported me recovering and coming back to run the race. I started physical therapy in January with a therapist I had never met before. Within five minutes of meeting me, she told me “Running Boston is not a good idea, I don’t see it happening.”

I was devastated, pissed, destroyed (read HERE). Yet, I also knew she was doing her job, which was to protect her patients and to move them towards recovery in the best way possible. Running a marathon did not fit into her treatment plan. As I began to recover and regain my strength, I eventually got her blessing. Four months later, I ran the Boston Marathon in 4:08. Not my fastest showing, but the one I am most proud of.


Look, Ma! No crutches!

Another reason someone might tell you can’t do something is jealousy. A supposed good friend might feel threatened when you say you want to train for your first marathon, and therefore tell you “I don’t think you can do that. It’s too hard on your body, too much of a time investment, etc.” When she really means, “I couldn’t do that, and if you do I fear I will appear weaker or less than you.”

Then there are just mean people who say you can’t do it because they hate their own miserable lives and don’t want to see anyone else succeed. Or, they just plain like looking down on people and feeling superior.

For me, the lesson in all of this is to dream big, but keep your feet on the ground. Take feedback from people you love, and try to decipher their intentions. Remember people may be trying to protect you, but you need to protect your dream. Above all, “If you want something, go get it.” Don’t be talked out of it.

Have you ever been told you couldn’t/shouldn’t do something you dreamed of? How did you react?



  1. Love that movie, just saw it for the first time a few weeks ago.

    This is a timely post for me as I was just diagnosed with a femoral stress fx, and the guy at the hospital said I have brittle bones and probably shouldn't be a runner. Ha. We'll see about that. :)

  2. about a year was out in the pool and I asked my husband "do you think I could do a half marathon?" I had been running for 5 mos at the time. He looked at me like I was an idiot "YOU??" I was so dissapointed in his crappy answer BUT I signed up that evening for my first half after going on the RLAM Facebook page asking the same question to perfect strangers who all said :"Go for it" In one week I will run my 3rd Half after 18 mos of running. I have to say that my husband is now VERY supportive of my running. I showed HIM :)

  3. Your Boston experience gives me goosebumps every time I read about it.

    I'm lucky to have mostly supportive people around me, but when someone does tell me I can't do something, I tend to view it as them not having confidence in themselves that THEY could do it.

    I usually find it best not to argue with them, and just work on achieving my goal.

  4. I have a (former) supposed friend who, when I confided in her that at age 38 I was going to pursue a "fix" for my infertility, told me "You're crazy!". Later, when I did become pregnant, same supposed friend responded with, "Congratulations...I guess". I never did carry a child to term, however I choose to look at meeting one of my goals - becoming pregnant (twice actually) and finally having an ultrasound for a heartbeat instead of for fibroids!

    And today, I feel good - really good - about the path I took. And for the friendship I had to let go of.


    I hear it all the time. "You can't be a good mom to 12 kids" (WATCH ME)

    You can't be a competitive runner when you didn't start running until you were 32 (WATCH ME)

    You can't run multiple marathons a year (WATCH ME)

    You can't cut 30 mins off your marathon PR in just a couple of months (WATCH ME)

    and on and on and on.

    I love to prove the haters wrong. :)

  6. It is hardest for me when I, Myself am saying I can not do something. I may not do it conciously but I find fear holding me back more than I ever realized. This year I am breaking through those barriers and I never knew they were there!! Im training for my first marathon, creating running company, and watching as my father battles brain tumors. and doing it bravely. How can you stand behind fear and doubt when someone you love fights so hard!

  7. My dad once told me I couldn't/shouldn't be a lawyer. He wanted me to be a dentist. I've been a lawyer for over 15 years now.

    I am knock-kneed and pigeon-toed. My whole life I have been told I am a terrible runner and shouldn't run. I practiced walking in a mirror for years so I would look "normal" when I walk. For most of my life, I didn't run, believing what I was told and worried hat people would make fun of me. Now, I am thankful for two strong legs, and I don't care what people think. And, now I am training for and will run that marathon I was always told I couldn't and shouldn't the young age of 41. :)

    And with these and other things, my friends and family know not to tell me I can't do something because I will move mountains to prove them wrong.

  8. I was fresh off my second kid and not a runner at all when I started telling only my closest friends that I wanted to run a marathon. I heard a lot of smart ass "good luck with that" comments. 2 marathons later....

  9. That's such a great movie. Great message too! If you are continually told that you can't do something, that you aren't good enough you definitely start to believe it.

  10. Wow, how timely. I was just telling myself yesterday that I needed to believe, not just hope, I could WIN my triathlon today.(I did!) And I LOVE The Pursuit of Happyness, although it makes me bawl.

  11. Had a professer tell me in 1992 that girls shouldn't be engineers - graduated 16+ years ago and I've been licensed for 11.5! My husband told me to give up on the idea of finishing a tri this summer. I trained from April to July and got my out-of-shape butt across that finish line. Maybe this Type A girl needs to be told what I "can't" do more often!

    Great movie! Great quote! I also like "Those who think it can't be done should get out of the way of those that are doing (and trying to do) it."

  12. Yes, this nasty little girl in my head is constantly fighting with the other little girl in my head that says I can do anything. Does this battle ever end?

    Love that movie too, think it's about time I go watch it again for motivation!

  13. A few years back, my ex-bf and I wanted to ride our bikes across the country. So many people told me I shouldn't, I wouldn't like living in a tent, wearing the same clothes for months would be annoying, etc. I did it anyway, and it is still one of the best things I've ever done!

  14. Oh, yes. My first semester of pharmacy school I asked a question of my prof and in the ensuing conversation he asked me what my undergrad degree was in. I told him my major had been fine arts and he laughed outright and said, "You'll never be a pharmacist." Then walked away, mid-conversation. I ended up graduating valedictorian and am now a successful and content pharmacist. So he can kiss it!
    By the way I read this article and thought of you. I just think you'd appreciate it; there are lots of quotes you can read loudly to your kids ;-)
    It's long but worth it.

  15. LOVE this post. I am very lucky and blessed to have a totally supportive family, although when I first told my mom I was going to run a marathon, she said, "Is that really good for you?? I don't think it's very healthy..." Did it anyway, of course, and it was TOTALLY good for me.

  16. I got this on my runner's quote of the day from Runner's World:

    Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary line and adding to one's liberty.

    Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet and critic

    I'm lucky that my husband always says "sure go for it" when I come up a race, ride or a whatever I want to do. I work with supportive people at work and love the amazed looks when I tell them on Monday what I did over the weekend :-)


  17. Oh yeah!
    Ex-boyfriend and I were on a long distance relationship (Singapore and London) for about 2 years ... Upon his graduation and his return to Singapore, I told him I am going to Australia for my bachelors degree. He said something to the effect of "why don't you just stay here since I just got back and just find a job" kinda thing.

    We broke up. I got accepted to a university in Sydney. And instead, I told my mom and dad that I am going to America! :)

    One of the best decisions I have ever made.
    I'm not one of those folks who can just "find a job and do it" for the rest of my life.

  18. My PT told me 1) I could not do Mt. Whitney this summer and 2) I could not do the Pikes Peak Ascent. Look who showed him!! Eventually, I got his blessing, but not initially and not without a few tears shed along the way.

  19. I own that movie and that exact scene is the reason why I bought it. :) What I really like about that scene is that Will Smith's character sees what he is doing to his son and retracts his negativity.

    I was a rough and tumble kid.. In and out of the system for a variety of reasons from 4 years old to 11 when I ran away. From 11 to 17 I lived on the streets. I didn’t go to middle school or high school. Everyone told me constantly that I would never amount to anything. Shortly after my 17th birthday I turned myself in. When I said I wanted to start high school so I could graduate and work with street kids (didn't know what college was then ;) ) the social worker laughed at me.

    Now, 10 years later, I am all but dissertation. Just have two more years until I get my PhD in developmental psychology. PLUS I get the amazing opportunity to work with adversity-exposed preschoolers and formerly fostered adolescents and I love it.

    Screw the people who tell you that you can't... they have no idea.. No one person can ever say YOU can't.

  20. I love that you look behind the "you can't" at the intentions of the speaker. We can reassure those who tell us that we can't because they want to protect us. We can reassure those who tell us we can't because they want to protect themselves. But those meanies who just want to see us fail, they gotta go. No need for them in my circle of friends!


  21. I dare people to tell me I can't do something. For me I think I can do everything and if I fail it won't be from a lack of trying.

    Some people call it cocky or narcissistic but you know what.....F U. I don't give up on myself and I don't give up on others. We can ALWAYS do better because better isn't always faster or strong it's just better.

  22. Thank you so much for the great post, its another one Im gonna print and keep in my running book !

  23. Another inspiring post- keep'em coming!

  24. LOVE this - i reblogged this, because it's such a great and inspiration topic. thank you!

  25. You da bomb, Baby! Thanks for this post!

  26. My whole life has been filled with stories like this. I can't think of just one of two instances. I have always dreamed big, and other people have always been skeptical. When I was younger I listened, but as I got older I learned to listen to my heart instead. My husband now says I epitomize the phrase "Tell me I can't, and I'll show you I can." Nothing drives me harder than someone telling me I probably can't do something. I love being able to laugh at them and give them a big old "can you handle THAT?!?"

  27. Thank you for this Beth. There's nothing like being picked last for teams throughout your childhood to reinforce the idea that you shouldn't be doing 'this' (whatever 'this' is at that moment.) it took me til my mid-30s to say screw all that, let's see what i can do. So far i can do 3 sprint tris and 3 half marathons in 13 months. Not bad, eh?

  28. The Pursuit of Happyness is one of my favorite movies. Thank you for sharing your story. When I was a child I was too dependent on what people think of me, especially older people. Then, I took classes for film directors. I was the youngest in the group. Everyone else was older than me at least on 15 years. Having the same tasks and same talks I've started to understand that all of them are not better than me. And for most of the cases, they just have bigger experience but their opinion is biased. It does not depend on truth but on their own beliefs. And then I understood that truth does not exist at all. The way you perceive life is your own choice. From there on I don't take to heart what other people tell me. I listen to them closely and make a decision do I want to believe in their words or not. Read here the philosophy literature on that theme.