Sunday, July 4, 2010

Can't Never Could....

All my life I heard the same advice from my dad whenever I complained about the difficulty of something or especially if I made the mistake of saying, "I can't."  His standard reply was "Can't never could do nothing."

When I was 25 years old, I sold everything I had and set out to see the islands of the Caribbean with a 17-foot sea kayak loaded down with camping gear.  It was an experience that would re-shape my life.

This post is about not listening to those who say "you can't" do something.  It's also on not following the crowd (or the herd, as I prefer to say in my book of rants called Astray of the Herd).

The reason I'm bringing this up is because of the common human behavior of groups discouraging individuals from attempting something outside the usual comfort zone of the group or larger numbers of individuals that make up the group.  Propose any such risky idea or unconventional enterprise to a group of other people, and you will quickly see it get shot down by one or many others in the group who will tell you not to attempt it, because they wouldn't.

An interesting post on the Boat Bits sailing blog I frequently read discussed this very thing just the other day in a piece called The Urge To Follow The Crowd.  The author tells of a post on a popular sailing discussion board in which a new member asked advice about sailing his relatively small, but seaworthy boat on a quite significant but very doable offshore passage from south Florida to Puerto Rico.  Naturally, the naysayers had to pipe in and kill the dream, advising the owner of the boat to instead have it shipped to Puerto Rico rather than attempt to sail it there on its own hull.  And this on a forum devoted to "Sailing Far."

This reminded me of so many times I've heard the same thing: "You can't."  You can't do this, or you can't do that, because....  but the person saying it never concludes with the truth: "because I can't, or because I'm afraid to."  I heard it when I announced to friends and family back when I was 25 that I was selling or giving away everything I owned except what would fit in a kayak and setting off to see how far as I could go, paddling from Mississippi to Florida and beyond in the Caribbean.  I did the trip anyway over the next 13 months and had the time of my life.  I heard "you can't" when I went to Florida and bought a 30-year old 26-foot sailboat for $5000 and  sailed it home to Mississippi, fixed it up, and moved aboard it with my then wife and went cruising.  I heard "you can't" when I said I was going to write books, and so on, and so on.   I even  heard it every day in Spanish: "No Puede Ir!"  (You can't go!) when my friend Ernest and I set out to hike through the Honduran jungle to the upper Patuca River with a folding Pak Canoe and then paddle to the coast. I've heard it all my life and I still hear it.

The above example of the sailing forum is one reason I take Internet discussion forums with a grain of salt.  I read a lot of great forums on subjects I'm interested in - many of them can be found in the links to the right - but I rarely post on any of them.  I read them to learn from others who have been somewhere or done something I want to know about, or have owned or tested some item I'm interested in.  But I've seen enough to know that I don't need all the "you can't" replies if I were to post a question like the guy in the above-mentioned sailing forum did. 

Survival forums can be among the worst.  I see discussion after discussion of "bugging-out" vs. "bugging in", 45. vs. 9mm, AR vs. AK, and on and on and on.  With regard to survival, and especially wilderness survival, there sure is a lot of the "you can't" attitude out there.  I don't bother, but would love to ask some of these negative posters why, if they are so sure that they and no one else in the discussion could survive in the woods (or whatever situation is the topic of the hour) then why are they even on a survival forum?  Just because the popular crowd's consensus is "you can't", should we just curl up in the fetal position and wait to die if the SHTF?  When it comes to survival, either you do or you don't.  There's really no in between.  But one thing is for certain, if you don't believe in yourself enough to believe you can, then you probably won't try hard enough to succeed.

That's the rant for today.  Just remember: "Can't never could do nothing" and take that four-letter word out of your vocabulary. 


  1. Scott, thanks so much for this post!

    I've been experiencing a lot of "you can't" recently myself. My good friend Chris and I are planning out an unsupported private kayak trip in the Grand Canyon. We will start applying for permits every time an opening pops up for a late February launch in 2012 or later so we can take a full 25-day trip.

    We both have little to no experience kayaking, but we are of course working on that now, and we think we'll be prepared by the time we win a permit even if we win the earliest we could for February of 2012. When I have talked this plan out with some of the more experienced paddlers at my job (I work for REI) all I get is "you can't..." and I was beginning to get discouraged. One co-worker even flat out said "you'd have no business being on the Colorado unsupported, even in 5 years" to which my response was "you know who else didn't have any business leading a trip on the Colorado? John Wesley Powell!"

    After reading your post today, I feel re-inspired to pursue this dream of mine... even if it means I have to take 6 different backpacking trips to stash supplies along the river, which is my current logistical thinking. Thanks so much for writing the perfect post right when I needed something like that.

  2. Hi Kyle,

    Thanks for letting me this post was helpful. Don't ever let anyone try to crush a big dream like that. It seems the bigger and more ambitious the plan, the more you will run into the "you can't" people.

    Great point about John Wesley Powell!

  3. Thanks for the inspiration! The "can't" attitude is rampant in America today. I see it all the time on the forums and from family who likes to tell me I can't afford to prep and that I can't waste time and energy on "what ifs". Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Hi Melinda,

    You're absolutely right about the rampant "can't" attitude. This is certainly not the attitude that built this country. Today is a good day to remember that "independence" starts at the individual level.

  5. The thing that rots my socks is the excuse "I tried." When I get this from a subordinate aboard ship, my response is, "Suppose I TRY to get us back to land? Or will only success satisfy?" More effective if hundreds or thousands of miles from land. LOL.

  6. That was a great post - most of regrets I hear from people I talk to are the ones which mentioned failing to take a risky action while they had the opportunity to do so (i.e. unattached, no permanent home (i.e. mortagage), kids, spouse, etc). And age - don't forget age.


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