When “I Can’t” Becomes “I Did It!”

This weekend, I had the honor of accompanying eight Boy Scouts on a backpacking trip to Oklahoma. Some of the Scouts are older and more experienced than the others; in fact, three of them hiked the very same trails a little more than a year ago. But for several of them, it was a weekend of firsts:

  • First time camping in a tent;
  • First time camping without Mom or Dad;
  • First time cooking outdoors;
  • First time carrying a backpack;
  • First time walking more than a mile with a load;
  • First time navigating with a map and compass;
  • First time leading a patrol on a hike.

The hiking was strenuous, over rocky terrain with plenty of ups and downs, and some of the Scouts were carrying as much as a third of their body weight on their backs. They spent much of the weekend cold, and tired, and sore.

And they all returned to the parking lot on Sunday with smiles on their faces. Even the adults felt like we had accomplished something.

Any time Scouts (or any of us, for that matter) do something for the first time, there’s a strong temptation to start with I can’t. Because I can’t is easy–if I can’t do it, it doesn’t matter how much I learn or how many skills I develop. If I can’t do it, I don’t have to try. All I have to do is ask for help, and somebody who can will do it for me.

Usually, though, I can’t really means I don’t know how. And that’s an entirely different animal.

Because when we don’t know how, we have to do the hard work of learning how before we can actually do what we need to do. It’s much harder than just throwing up our hands and asking somebody else to do it.

And frankly, when a child says I can’t, it’s easier for an adult to step in and do it for them than to take on the time and frustration of teaching and letting them do it wrong over and over again until they finally learn how.

This is where the Scouting program is brilliant. Because Boy Scouts is designed to get Scouts past I can’t. First a teacher (usually another Scout who’s already gotten past I can’t) shows them how to do it, how to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps, then gives them a chance to practice. Then, when I can’t begins to shift to can I? They have a chance to do it for real, in the field, with other Scouts depending on them. Can I? quickly becomes I can, and moments or hours later, after a lot of work, I can gives way to I did it!

The look on a Scout’s face when he arrives at that point, when I can’t becomes I did it! is beyond priceless. It’s a moment that stays with you. I didn’t figure out how to put this into words until this weekend, but that moment is why I’ve loved Scouting for a decade, why I’ll consider remaining active with my troop even after my son earns his Eagle rank and turns 18 later this year.

That moment is not unique to Scouting. Every one of us has access to it. Your I can’t may be more complex than a Scout’s, but that will just make your I did it! that much sweeter.

What do you want to do that you’re not sure you can? Start learning how. Start doing the hard work. Start taking steps. You might be surprised how quickly your I can’t becomes I did it!

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.