I must have been seven years old when my sister and I had smallpox. I can still feel the unbearable itching of every inch of my body. My father sat on the floor with us, folded his legs in his arms, and started telling us a story in order to distract us. It was easy for me – my mind has always been stronger than my initial body instincts. On the contrary, my sister, out of a sudden, started scratching all over her body, shouting “I can’t! I can’t!” After he calmed her down, my father went out of the door and came back with a book. It was called Chicken Soup for the Soul and contained a collection of real stories told by different people. He read us one of them – “RIP or the Burial of “I Can’t””. I will never forget it. It was told by a man who had witnessed a unique school lesson – all of the students including the teacher had had the task to write on a piece of paper all the things they cannot do, then the teacher put the sheets of paper in a box, buried it in the back yard of the school and wrote on the grave “RIP”.
Since that day there have been millions of situations in which I wanted to say “I can’t” but I never did. Every time I stopped myself and tried again, even harder. After an unsuccessful swimming lesson in first grade, during which I almost drowned myself, I thought I could never learn to swim – nowadays I rarely get out of the water.
One year later I escaped from the first math course I was forced to attend, sure that I would never be good at math. Now I cannot imagine my life without all hours spent in solving problems, the innumerable attended competitions, and the great mathematicians I have had the pleasure to meet.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with an illness of the thyroid gland. Due to the medicine I gained a lot of weight and I was not allowed to do the slightest physical exercise. I started a diet and in three months lost all of the additional weight and even more.
I believe in the power of books to influence, change, and motivate people. I believe that the individual development of every single person plays a vital role in mankind’s evolution. I believe that every great man has remained in history as one because he has proved possible what others people have declared as impossible. I also believe that next to every great man has stood at least one true friend, no matter a parent, a sibling, or a mentor. I believe that the mind can achieve much more than the body. Most of all I believe that every time I hear someone saying “I can’t”, I am obliged to tell him that “I can’t” died long ago.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.