There’s No Such Word As Can’t”! I grew up hearing that expression. It was at first inspiring, then repetitive, then condescending, then annoying and then became a key tenet of my entire being.

And now, I am forced to confront my own words. Here’s a fun exercise. Make a list of all the activities or things you now “Can’t Do”! Depending on how active you are and especially, your environmental structure, dictates the length of the list. What I mean about “environmental structure” is your personal demographics. Are you married or have a romantic partner? Do you have children and if so, how many? How old are they? Do you have parents? Are you living with them again? How’s that working? Are your parents elderly and in a care home? How’s that going? Are you single and if so, lonely?

Here’s my most critical question today; “Are you feeling blessed or cursed?” Frankly, I’ve been completely fascinated by this pandemic’s effect on people’s mindset because I’ve made a career as a motivational speaker and while my talks focus on my personal story, I believe my  true impact is I’m holding up a “metaphorical mirror” for my audience to examine how they see their own circumstances and what that looks like. It’s also absolute “human nature” to take things for granted. I believe that has shifted. How about you?

So what do you see in “your mirror” now? I refuse to use the “over-used” word “unprecedented” but am I alone in thinking…”What The F*@k”? Having just been derogatory, let me be more appropriately thoughtful. I have spent my whole life charting uncharted ground! I have done and been more “Firsts” than I can count.

In 1983, I was the “first” recipient of the Mount Royal College Most Distinguished Alumni Award. MRC was chartered in Calgary in 1910! Just consider the sheer number of students who went through their doors in over 70 years. They could have picked anyone for the Inaugural award, and they picked me! Why’d they do that? Because I have no arms? Look, I’m sure that played a part, but the day I received this prestigious recognition is engraved in my mind. I accepted the award in front of over 2,000 people at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, I was seated next to Grant MacEwan, a legendary Albertan born in 1902 and the man a University in Edmonton is named after. He was genuinely intrigued by my story and I will never forget what he said to me after I accepted the award. It was along the lines of…”How does such a young man with obvious challenges achieve so much in such a short period of time”? Do you know what I answered? “Because I didn’t know what I couldn’t do”! Think about that? I can’t lie and say what’s going on right now isn’t messing with my head too, but I’ve literally “been there, done that”! And then I got to thinking about another subject I speak and write about quite often.

Project “Not Impossible”

I was born in 1960 and my parents had already been married for 30 years by then. They knew “hardship”. It’s my assertion that’s why when they brought me home as an abandoned newborn, they didn’t see “impossible”. They saw it as almost like “a project”. Something to “work” at. And if you know my story, my independence astounds people. “How did I do this?” is a question I get all the time. I hate to make this sound simple, but I just did! I grew up having my chores. Making my bed…every single day! Keeping my room clean. Vacuuming, mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, doing the dishes, taking out the garbage…in my teeth! You “learn” by doing and it never felt like my parents being mean. It’s life! It also seems to make perfect sense to me that resilience is learned, not a birthright!

So my generation was labeled as “The Baby Boomers”, and Google says that is children born between 1946 and ‘64. That’s very significant. Parents of these kids often expected a lot and trust me, there weren’t any “participation ribbons or medals” for just showing up and indeed…we kept score! In fact, I believe “self esteem” comes from having to get over a few bumps in life!

So fast forward to when too many of these “kids” became parents themselves. Their children were called “Generation Y” and without going to deep here, I believe these particular parents made a huge mistake and you cannot understate this. They decided they didn’t like their own upbringing so they were going to do the exact opposite. Whoever said and believed “The job of a child is to be a child” was truly nieve. Now let’s be clear, I’m not talking about five year olds! I’m referring to adolescents.

These equally nieve parents made their kid’s beds for them, made their school lunch, let them “choose” dinner. Never made them do any chores and usually were dead set against their teens having a paying job. They gave them an allowance for doing nothing and they commonly bought them a new, expensive car for turning 16! Am I making sense? Do you see where I am taking this? And by the way, this absolutely not me “ranting”! I witnessed it personally.

My son, Vance, was born in 1985. I became a single dad when he was three. He moved in with Darlene and I permanently when he was eight. He was doing his own laundry by age ten. Making meals at twelve, working part time at sixteen and bought himself a used car at seventeen. Today, he is still single but he is handling this pandemic in a way that doesn’t surprise me. He had his work hours reduced so he bought himself a beater car and is delivering food for “Skip The Dishes”. His resilience amazes even me. Can we speculate about where that came from? I’m not bragging because everything I say and write about isn’t to boast. It’s my personal proof that people can overcome huge obstacles in their lives and I strongly believe these days are revealing some painful truths about how people who struggle with what they never “learned” are coping. So here’s the most important question for this blog.

How Are YOU???

I do not believe this pandemic is a planned “Test From Above”, or whatever deity you look to for guidance. But make no mistake…this is a “Test”. And it’s the biggest one ever for the entire planet. So I choose to focus not on the 7,591,000,000 people who live here, but the “1”…YOU!

I know everyone reacts to turmoil in their own way and it truly is whatever works for you. But I also believe we have reached a level of fear we have never seen and while I hate to say…”I told you so”, I’m using my extra time to craft a new book with a working title…”Insecurity”! I see it as an all encompassing global human frailty and we are frail right now!

So how do we “Gain Security”? By Doing! I’m really not trying to be one of those “annoying happy and optimistic” people because that’s engrained in my psyche. I’m suggesting this is the perfect time to experiment with tasks we aren’t confident about. Here are some suggestions.

While I’m proud of my son delivering food to people’s homes to make a few bucks, why not experiment with cooking and baking your own meals? Try some “Do It Yourself” home improvements. I painted the stairs at our cottage a couple of years ago and I still break out in a smile when I look at what “I Did”!  My wife is a Feng Shui Master and decluttering expert so she would suggest this a perfect time to purge things like your wardrobe! I have seen several portable garbage bins parked in driveways all around the neighbourhood and they’re almost full! Remember, a decluttered space is a decluttered mind!

How often have said…”If I only had the time?”, well kids! Be careful what you wish for, huh?

Go for more walks. I know this isn’t “original”, but pets are a beneficiary of the new truth and if I may add, we’ve had rescue dogs and cats for almost 30 years and our four year old dog, Murphy, is literally an untrained emotional support pet! He knows human energy and changes the “feel” of our home. Bigger bonus, we must focus our attention and care for a defenceless being and that alone can be a great boost to our mental health. Is there anything better than a cuddle with a pet?

Speaking of mental health, do you volunteer? There are so many folks in need. Millions of shut-in elderly people who would love a “virtual visit”. One of my focal points in my material is the quote…”Be A Giver, Not A Taker!”. Also remember to balance your time “Giving” and save some of it “for you”!

What To Do

Do you play an instrument? Did you always want to? I’m still warming to online shopping but any of the sites with instruments can be delivered and here’s a key…instruments need to be played, not stored.

Read! I love to read, and by the way, you don’t have to immerse yourself in “self help” books, though they are a great source of inspiration right now. My wife, Darlene, loves to read everything, but I notice, some of her choices are the derogatory description of “Chick Lit”! Excellent. Not everything has to be “educational” or “inspirational”. Nothing wrong with a little “escape”! My brother-in-law, Ron, is retired from the Canadian military and his hobby is fishing! It’s his escape and by the way, it’s the same for his wife Evelyn, because…Ron goes fishing; Woohoo!

In other words, what is occurring shouldn’t feel like a “prison sentence” even though it may feel like “solitary confinement”!

And one last observation. If you have any young ones at home, I feel for you. I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of teachers in my career and a line I sometimes use that raises an eyebrow on occasion is my description of our schools being respite care for parents! Honestly! If you don’t believe me, how does it feel at the end of Summer Vacation when they finally go back to class. Not to make this worse, but Summer Vacation is on the horizon and most parents are praying for the social distancing to ease and I hear that. Frankly, this whole saga would be tolerable if they could at least play with their friends, right? How’s that “home schooling” feel? So another exercise: put yourself in their shoes! Not to be a “Dr. Phil” here, but a profound exercise may be refocusing on how “they” feel and why you had children in the first place! We must, and I mean “must” practice patience, tolerance and mind our tempers! My son knows all too well how much I’ve improved over that one, heh Vance.

Look, none of us are perfect and expecting “perfect” behaviour right now is a stretch. On another day, I’ll write about how our own “powers of intention” can be transformative. But for me, seeing what I “Have” versus “What I Don’t” has carried me through countless obstacles and it will for this one too…for all of us!