I remember being a kid and learning to ice skate. Instead of going to a rink, my first experience was on a frozen pond with another family. My father had decided it was time that I learned to ice skate. He was a graceful and experienced skater. So he bought me a pair of skates and took me to a friend’s pond which was deemed safe in the middle of winter.
I was nervous, and even though I had good balance because of years of ballet classes, the idea of skating on the pond terrified me. What if I fell in? What if I feel down on the hard ice? What if I broke an ankle? Or made a fool of myself?
I allowed fear to take over my mind and body. Having only a thin blade underneath my shoe to balance on made balancing my priority, but I thought that somehow I’d find the one spot that wasn’t frozen solid. I had all sorts of thoughts running through my head as I tried to move myself, one glide at a time, slipping and sliding all over the place and falling constantly.
I watched everyone else gliding so effortlessly while I was bumbling all over the place. Even though I had the tools to be successful – the balance, the shoes, the frozen pond, I kept saying, “I can’t.”
Until a family friend skated up to me and gave me a phrase that has stayed with me for decades: Can’t Is Won’t.
She delivered her no-nonsense answer to my plaintive “I can’t” and then skated away. I stood there frozen in place feeling like I was going to cry. “I can’t” kept running through my head. Couldn’t she see that I was trying to do it, but that the pond’s surface wasn’t smooth so there were bumps that threw me off balance and that I was making an effort? I was trying, but I had never been on skates before now.
She skated by me again, took my hands in hers and began to pull me as I frantically tried to keep up with her and stay balanced on the skates. I remember being so afraid of falling or worse, pulling her down with me. But she would have no excuses and continued over the rippled frozen bumpy ice with me in tow.
I knew better than to say, “I can’t” aloud to her so I kept quiet and focused on staying upright as my feet began to glide more rhythmically with hers. Not long after was I actually skating. When she began to pull less and make me work more to keep up with her, my confidence began building.
“I’m letting go, but I’m next to you,” she suddenly announced.
The panic returned and I began flailing and promptly fell down on my rearend. She skated back to me, reached out a hand and helped me up.
“Now do it again,” she demanded.
I searched for my father and the rest of the group, but they were not nearby. It was just the two of us and being that she was an adult and I was a child, I knew I had to be respectful and do as she demanded.
“You CAN do this. Let’s go,” she said as she took my hand again and began skating. “Falling down is part of life. Getting back up is the only choice. But saying “I can’t” isn’t going to be in your vocabulary. How can you say that when you haven’t tried? You don’t know if you can unless you’ve tried. But if you won’t try, you’ll never know. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I answered tentatively.
“Good because if you believe you can’t, then you can’t. But if you won’t try, you’ll never know if you can or can’t and that’s a shame. Don’t be afraid. Life is too short.”
I am grateful to her for teaching me how to ice skate because I did learn that day. Decades later, I can still hear her say, “Can’t is won’t” when I want to say I can’t do something, so I change my mind and try!
I hope my little story inspires you.