“Can’t” Deal: Learning to Tolerate Limits

I’m a relatively tolerant person in many ways, but there’s one thing that I’ve never been able to stomach very well, and that’s giving up.  I get even crankier about not trying in the first place.  I almost totally shut down when I hear that someone doesn’t believe in him/herself.  Ironically, I can’t deal with “can’t.”

I’ve always felt good about believing in limitless possibilities, and I still do, but I’m finding that in organizational leadership it does have its pitfalls.  First of all, not everyone does…believe that anything’s possible, that is…and it’s ok.  Some people are pragmatic.  Actually, in many situations those people help people like me stay on track.  It’s a good thing.  The trouble is that when a pragmatist and a dreamer get together in a fast paced environment it can lead to frustration.  A bit of frustration is fine, but the business of public education moves so fast that it’s often difficult to find time to resolve frustrations as the pile up, which can lead to heartily compiled frustrations.  You need a really big shove with a sturdy handle to dig your way out of those.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t’ choose to stop dreaming even if I could, but I’m finding that I better learn to deal with pragmatism as soon as possible, and certainly before my belief in limitless potential and endless possibilities clashes to much with very real and important concerns of the smart and capable pragmatists I serve.  The fact is, I have lot’s to learn, and some of the best learning I’ve done in my forty years has come out of experiences with people who’s ideals all but contradict my own.  In patient times, when I have moments to reflect and process, I deeply value those people’s contradictory thoughts and ideas, especially when I end up understanding them well enough to adopt the ones that end up making sense to me.

Recently I had cause to consider a “can’t” that burned me up when I first heard it.  I was surprised, I was disappointed, I was confused, and I was frustrated.  I wanted nothing more than to shift it to a “can.”  I pushed and I shoved, but there was no give.  That didn’t make it any better.  I was not convinced.  I couldn’t understand that “can’t,” but I think that now I can.

Every person knows him/herself better that any other person possibly could.  As much of a challenges as it is to me on a daily basis, I’m not able to read anyone’s mind but my own…and even that’s pretty exhausting.  Pushing a pragmatist to the brink of frustration by insisting that he/she believe in something he/she doesn’t believe in doesn’t make him/her believe in that thing.  In the best-case scenario it might help him/her consider broader possibilities.  In the worst-case scenario it might cause a rift in what could have otherwise developed into a trusting, collaborative relationship.

Again, I don’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to prevent the concept limitless possibilities from tempting me, and frankly I’m not trying to, but I’m finding that as an organizational leader I need to learn how to give each person I serve the space and respect to “can’t” if that’s what he/she feels is best for him/her in any given moment.  Some people want to stay in bounds, and many of them accomplish incredible things doing just that.  They say that there’s a time for everything.  Maybe there’s a time to believe in limitations, and a purpose for holding back…even if I can’t.  People are each different, and that’s one of the things that make collaboration so effective.

Through critical and continuous reflection I’m working hard to learn the leadership lessons that are so conveniently built into each moment of my life.  This has been a tough one to swallow.  Regardless, I intend to master the balance between my belief in limitless possibilities and a healthy respect for perceived limitations before it has me forgetting that there’s nothing more important for the wellbeing of the students I serve than positive partnerships, even…and especially through differences of opinion.

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

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