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You Can't Do That!

“You can’t do that!” Those words make me cringe. They are the wet blanket that has crushed so much greatness before it ever got off the ground. May they die in h*ll.

Strong words. Strong feelings. Those four words are the primary weapon of the ignorant. They are designed to hold you back and sew doubt. They just may be the four most destructive words in existence.

I live in a quiet, rural area. Several years ago, I volunteered to serve on the Board of Directors of a local non-profit. I figured that it would help keep me busy, and I might do some good. Retiring at 40 causes you to consider doing all sorts of good works in your “spare” time.

Anyway, I got on this Board and it quickly became apparent that, though the organization had no money, the community needed what it had to offer and it had the potential to explode in growth. There were passionate people involved. And there was interest from a nearby (and wealthier) region to expand the services of the organization. This expansion could mean the possibility of raising real money and really doing some good in our greater community.

Several of us put together a vision, and, seeing we were on the same path, started to implement it. My wife and I bootstrapped the creation of a new branch in the wealthy neighboring region just by talking it up.

“You can’t do that!” Those words slipped out of the mouth of an academic on the Board when we communicated our vision. “So-in-so organization doesn’t do that and they are bigger than us,” she said. “So what?” I replied.

The goals were ambitious. But we had momentum on our side. Lots of it, it seemed. And a very bright group of people in the new region who could make all of this happen. Yet that academic’s corrosive words began to eat into the Boards’ confidence. “What if we are being too ambitious?” they said. Other members were just looking for a sign of which way the wind would blow. A few more nay-sayers began mumbling. We were at a critical tipping point. And laziness won out over vision. The opportunity was missed.

Eventually, the Board members left for greener pastures, and were replaced by a new army of real duds. “Huh?” was the best that they could do when presented with the vision. They were lazy. And this might involve some work. “Nah.” “Things are just fine,” they said.

The activists who anchored the new satellite community group saw this attitude problem in the Board and promptly seceded. They didn’t need dead weight holding them back. They had already raised more money in a few weeks than the original organization had ever raised in its existence at one time.

Unfortunately, things weren’t “just fine.” Now, with a declining economy and the loss of momentum, the original organization has lost most of its participants and funding. It’s very existence is at risk.

I failed. And considering the opposition arrayed against growth, I quit. Should I have stayed and fought on? Perhaps. My wife thought so at the time. The truth is that the negative energy of a group of nay-sayers can drain the positive energy right out of you. That negative energy is powerful and highly contagious. Who you associate with can have a big influence on how successful you are in all areas of your life. This group’s attitude repulsed me. My emotional instinct was to get away from it. I weighed the chances of success against the energy drain that would effect me in everything I did, and I decided that this was not the place to draw the line. No matter what I did, I was fighting a losing battle. Then again, maybe I just gave up.

You have to pick your battles carefully. And I just didn’t expect that kind of reaction. I was blind-sided, and that was that.

At least a new, independent organization rose out of these ashes, in the nearby wealthy community. It seems to be thriving. So some good did come from these efforts.

Sometimes it’s grow or die, folks. Those four words, “You Can’t Do That,” can be just enough, at just the right moment, to tip the scales in favor of death and loss.

Do me a personal favor. Don’t use them. If you find yourself using them, catch yourself, and think again. Opportunity is a fragile and fleeting thing. Nurture it. And if you can, defend it better than I did!

All the best,

Hugh

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