Empowering Myself by Giving Up Two Little Words

 By Marcia Thornton Jones

 The other day, my seven-year-old great-niece said two simple words that stopped me in my tracks.

“I can’t.”

It hit me how easily those two words slipped out when presented with something she clearly could do.

And, just like that, I decided I wasn’t going to accept them. After all, I had just watched as one of the most qualified women in American politics cracked a glass ceiling, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she often was told, “you can’t”. But instead of listening to those naysayers, she kept climbing the ladder until, finally, it got kicked out from under her. Which, I have a feeling, merely means she will adjust her goals and then continue doing the work that resonates with her life purpose.

So I looked straight in my great-niece’s eyes and asked, “Is it really because you can’t? Or is it because you don’t want to?”

“I don’t want to,” she said without batting an eyelash.

That phrase didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I found it empowering. My great-niece knew what was right for her at that time, and doing what I asked her to do wasn’t it.

Our little conversation got me thinking about how often I rely on those words, too. Saying I can’t seems to be a catch-all phrase for not striving to accomplish a goal—whether it’s a personal goal or a task set by someone else. But by saying I can’t, it seems to me that I am giving away my personal power. As if the realm of possibility is beyond my grasp because I lack skill, ability, and knowledge. When did it become okay to admit to myself and to others this defeatist attitude built on the concept of deficiency? I wish someone, way back when, had looked me in the eyes and told me that saying I can’t was no longer acceptable.

So, today, I’m writing a letter to the little-girl me with a few options that are more empowering.

Dear Little-Girl Me,

Never give away your personal power by saying I can’t. Empower yourself with these phrases, instead.

Five Things to Say Instead of “I Can’t”
  1. I’ll try.
  2. Please teach me.
  3. That doesn’t interest me.
  4. That doesn’t resonate with my personal goals.
  5.   I will do this instead.

Or, as my great-niece taught me, it’s always okay just to say, “I don’t want to!”


  1. I love them, too. Joining you in deleting "I can't" from my personal lexicon!

  2. At first, these seem like subtle difference. But when you really think about it, it's not subtle AT ALL.


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