I would love to be a belter. One of those pure Broadway belters who can effortlessly hit high notes all day long with their perfect, clear tone, as if it’s the most normal, natural, easy task ever. It’s something I’ve been really trying to work towards ever since I started performing– and, speaking humbly, I think I’ve made some strides.
I’d also love to be a dancer. But I “can’t dance.” Guess how my dancing skills have developed?
If you guessed, they haven’t at all, you’re probably more or less correct. At least, I don’t think my dancing skills have developed. But I haven’t really been looking for improvement in that area, anyway. That’s the beauty of simply saying “I can’t.”
I work to maintain a positive “can-do” attitude when it comes to singing. I have a leg up in this regard because, for me, singing feels more or less natural. It always has. Of course, singing, dancing, and play-acting come naturally to all of us as children, but singing was the skill I chose to continue developing most frequently past childhood, so it’s the one I favor today.
Staying positive makes self-improvement easy. When you’re always looking for the bright side of life, spotting little signs of growth (even if they’re only flukes or mirages) comes naturally. I try not to beat myself up when my voice doesn’t sound as I’d hoped, or a song I have to sing doesn’t come out as well as I’d pictured. I always know I can figure out what’s wrong and work to solve the issue, whether it takes me a few minutes or a few months.
This means I have resilience when faced with difficult problems. As long as I keep telling myself, “I know I can do this,” any issue seems surmountable. My last production at the time of writing was a testament to this fact– I tackled a note higher than I’d ever been able to sing head-on and screwed up many times until I finally got it right. I worked hard, and still failed plenty, but I was able to hold on until it all finally paid off.
When you tell yourself “I can,” you enter into a sort of contract with yourself. You’re saying, “it might be hard, it might be nearly impossible, but I’m saying I can, so I will.”
So what does it mean when we say we can’t?
We say it all the time. “I can’t sing.” “I can’t lift this.” “I can’t run.” “I can’t do math.”
Do you notice anything about all of those examples? Mull it over for a bit while I continue.
When you say “I can’t,” you’re also entering a contract with yourself. “No matter what, I cannot do this.” Thus, you eliminate the need to try. No point trying to change the facts of the situation– you can’t do it, and that’s that. By saying it, you make it true, because you’ll never have to work to get it right.
I say “I can’t dance,” and it lets me off the hook of trying to become a better dancer. I’m saying, “I might try all I want, but I still can’t do it, so let’s not worry about the fact I’m not improving.” It’s like a security blanket. In a way, it protects me from failing. I’m not failing if the goal is impossible.
Imagine where we might be if we never left it at “I can’t.” Imagine if, instead, we elected to say, “I’m still learning.”
After all, those examples I gave earlier?
They’re all things you can change.
It’s not easy. For some, it might actually prove impossible. But you’ll never know as long as you’re only saying “I can’t.”