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Life Lesson: You can do anything you put your mind to, even if it’s “I can't.”

Life Lessons1246 words6 minutes to read

Growing up, I always heard the adage “you can do anything you put your mind to”. I never really understood it because I think I took it too literally.

This post is part of a larger series written to my children entitled “Life Lessons”. Read the Introduction to learn more, or view all of the “Life Lessons” posts.

I thought to myself, “you couldn’t move a mountain if you put your mind to it, so whoever said that must be full of crap.” It wasn’t until I took a step back from the literal and started to look at the intended meaning that it finally began to make sense to me.

Putting my mind to it

I figured the first part out in my early twenties. I put my mind into doing the best job in college that I possibly could, and I graduated at the top of my (admittedly very small) class. I was determined to drive my career from the bottom to the top.

My first post-college job gave my a pay bump of $15,000 a year. My next jump was by almost $30,000. My next jump was by another $35,000. By working hard, studying my craft, striving for excellence, and continuing to aim for the top, my annual salary jumped by $80,000 in just 4 short years.

Smarts vs. Hustle

It would be misguided to say that it’s only about smarts. There are a number of people whom I’ve encountered over the years who are all incredibly smart. Some of them were doing as well as I was, some better, but many were doing worse. Why? Because they lacked hustle. By being smart, they’d gotten lazy in school and never really learned how to apply themselves.

When I was a kid, I was the same way. Year after year after year, my parents would come home from the parent-teacher conferences with the same feedback from my teachers: “Ryan is a smart kid, but he just doesn’t apply himself.”

My parents were frequently frustrated when I’d bring home bad grades from school. They’d ask why. “It’s boring,” I’d reply. “It’s too easy.” I could see the blood vessel in my dad’s forehead pulse with frustration. “Well, if it’s so easy, why don’t you just do it?” I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time, but once I figured it out in high school, it was something along the lines of “why would I go do something so boring on purpose?”


I had no motivation to do homework. I had no motivation to do well in school. Teachers would tell me how important it was to learn this stuff, but I just didn’t see the practicality of it all. Still to this day I don’t understand why I needed to learn that the Mayans grew maize, or how to multiply matricies. It was all too abstract and irrelevent. It didn’t help me meet girls, and it didn’t teach me how to play guitar, so what was the point?

It wasn’t until the day I found out I was going to be a father that I finally found my motivation to do the very best job I possibly could in all things. I was going to have a new baby girl, and she deserved the very best that I could provide for her. I knew that wasn’t going to happen delivering pizzas, so I went back to school to get my Bachelor’s, found a better paying job with a great group of people. I really started to focus on how I could provide the best possible life for my new bride and our little baby girl.

…But that’s not what I came to tell you about.

I came to tell you about the other part of the lesson — the part that most people completely overlook.

Yes you can

You can tell yourself “I can” all day long, and if you really believe it, and you’re willing to work for it, you can absolutely accomplish anything you put your mind to. Determination + Hustle (+ Perseverance) = Success.

But what if you tell yourself “I can’t”? Or how about “it’s too hard for me”? Guess what. Whether you believe that you can, or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.

My long-time fear

I’ve always had a hard time talking to girls. Well, not always, but I’ve always found that it’s easier to talk to a female as a friend than it is to talk to a female that I’m interested in. Without even meaning to, I find myself trying to come up with interesting things to say, and they always come out as inane banter. It’s when there’s no pressure and I’m comfortable being myself that I can chat up the ladies with no problem.

A couple of months after your mom left, I was out by myself exploring a new spot along Lake Washington I’d never seen before. It was nice, and the weather was great, and after a while of hanging out, I decided to go find something to eat. I was wandering around this few-block section of town where there were a lot of restaurants and ended up at this little Thai restaurant.

As I walked inside, I noticed only a single patron in the entire restaurant — a tall blonde with blue eyes and a beautiful smile. I was somewhat intimidated because she was beautiful and I was immediately attracted to her. I found another table across the restaurant, sat down, and ordered my food. The restaurant was small and we could see each other across the way. We kept making (then breaking) eye contact while we were each waiting for our meals. I thought to myself “there’s no way I can talk to her. She’s too hot, and I won’t have anything interesting to say.”

I was wrong

After spending about 10 minutes stealing glances back and forth, I finally decided that the worst thing that would happen is that a complete stranger would blow me off. Was that really a big deal? No. So I got up, walked over to her table and asked if she minded if I joined her. She said no, so I sat down, introduced myself, and asked her how she ended up at a restaurant that was so empty.

From there we ate and chatted for about 45 minutes. Then she asked me if I was interested in getting some frozen yogurt and going for a walk with her. I absolutely was, so that’s what we did.

I spent just over two hours getting to know this really cool, beautiful, attractive woman, and it made for a really fun Saturday afternoon. The little voice in my head had switched from “I can’t” to “I can!”. All I had to do was take a chance, and I was able to prove myself wrong. From there, it made it much easier to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. Some people blew me off, sure, but it wasn’t the heartbreaking rejection that I had always thought it would be.

Yes you can

So, if there’s one lesson to learn here, it’s that you can do anything you put your mind to, even if it’s “I can’t”. The trick is to suspend your fear of whatever it is that’s holding you back — rejection, failure, shyness, or something else — and just go for it. What do you really have to lose?

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.