Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

I can. Such an unassuming phrase.

Or … not.

At its best, “I can” is powerful and confident: I can be strong, I can take a stand for myself, I can find the courage to be me, I can deal with this difficult situation, I can be a leader.

But “I can” has a risky side that, if you’re not careful, will set you on a slippery slope away from the direction you want to be going.

The risk lies in acting on “I can” because … well, just because you can.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines can as being physically or mentally able to.

But making choices based only on that definition is likely to get you in trouble.

That’s what happened to my friend Debbie, with whom I worked back in my corporate days. Debbie was everyone’s go-to person for pretty much everything. We all knew that if she was physically or mentally capable, she’d automatically say yes.

Can you do this last minute analysis? Yes, I can.
Can you come in and work this weekend? Yes, I can.
Can you take on this project? Yes, I can.
Can you pick up a birthday cake for Bob? Yes, I can.
Can you bring us back lunch since you’re running out for an errand? Yes, I can.

And that was just at work. She had the same pattern in her personal life.

The problem wasn’t with any particular individual Yes, I can.

The problem was that Debbie never counted up the cost of all those “Yes, I can” statements or considered how (if!) her choices aligned with her personal and professional goals.

In her mind, the only consideration was could she. If she could, then she felt she should. And she paid a high price that wasn’t at all what she wanted.

She didn’t have time or energy for her friends or family. She kept delaying her goal of pursuing an MBA because, in her words, “Where on earth would I find the time?” And that’s just two examples.

We all face choices that fall into the just because you can doesn’t mean you should category.

And we all occasionally get hooked by I can, so I should.  I know I’m never going to be perfect!

Fortunately, it’s not about perfection. It is about being aware of your choices and how they align with what’s most important to you.

Adding more questions will help shift your choices.

Can I? is just the starting point. If you know you can – if you’re physically and mentally able – don’t stop there! Ask more questions!

  • Should I do this?
  • Why?
  • Really? Is that really true?
  • How does saying “yes” align with what’s important to me?
  • What am I giving up if I say “yes”? (There’s always a trade-off – other uses of your time, energy, happiness, self-care, etc.)
  • What conscious choice will I make?

Run the questions through your mind AND your gut / intuition. If you don’t get the same answer from both, pay attention! Your gut instinct might telling you that you’re in the land of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If you do not change direction you may end up where you were heading. ~ Lao Tzu


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