I want “I can’t.”

A strong feeling overwhelms me every time I speak with the phone system of a mega-corporation. I am filled with emotion listening to detailed instructions from a computer voice that finally maybe leads to a real person’s voice which hardly helps my situation at all! It takes a lot of effort not to exclaim aloud into the microphone this intensity!

JEALOUSY is coursing through my being when I deal with situations like this!

Is that what you thought I was going to say?

Yes! I am admitting that I sometimes feel envious of a Pepsi Co or Budweiser or Verizon when I am dealing with them in my work or personal life. Usually the only time I need to talk with them on a phone is when there is a problem. I am dumbfounded and flabbergasted at the minuscule amount of help that a gigantic operation like theirs can provide. I only have to call when I have an unusual situation that may require a little flexibility on their part. I find that I am more often than not, stuck without a way to accomplish what I would like, when they tell me that magic word.

“No” seems to be the way in which my requests are responded to. Or maybe “We Can’t”, or “That isn’t an option” or even my favorite “We could have an hour ago, but now it will be another week.” WHAT?!?

This is the thing that I find my green jealousy centered around. This uncanny knack for saying NO to a ‘valued customer.’

See, I have never been a corporate guy. I have worked in some decently sized companies, but in each case, I was personally working for the original owners… in person, in the same building. I have never worked on a campus or been part of a team that was in a division of a region within a larger incorporated structure. The rigidness of the big boys is totally foreign to me.

It almost seems, that the bigger the company, the better they are at telling me (their customer) No. Interesting isn’t it?

I’m probably not really jealous, but at least bothered by the fact that we aren’t getting the full truth when we run into the words No or I can’t. We aren’t being honored as a customer or even as a human being with the courtesy of the actual answer to the question.

In my small business background, working in small town America, when someone asks me a question or makes a request, I am rarely going to give a Pepsi Co style response. Looking a person in the eye, and asking them for something, can be intimate in a way. They want something from you, and you have to Decide whether or not you will make their request happen.

I can spend time unpacking my reasons. I can express a verbal essay about why I would or wouldn’t attempt to help in this specific situation. Truly though, if I simply say “I can’t”, I am telling a fib.

Being on both sides of this coin, I know that there is another response we all are aware of, and it goes something like this:

If I wanted to badly enough, If I gave it my 100% focus and attention, If I committed myself completely to this task making any sacrifice necessary, I could accomplish dang-near ANYTHING!

We know this to be true about ourselves. We know this to be true about others. We know that if Pepsi Co really wanted to deliver me a single 3 gallon box of Tropicana Pink Lemonade by tomorrow, they could ABSOLUTELY do it! They have the lemonade, they have the trucks and they have my address… So really, the truth is that they don’t want to do it. Or the computer program that shows them how to be profitable says it isn’t, and they’re following that. Yes, it is my fault that I forgot to order it, I made a mistake. However, if they really wanted to help me out they could…

So go ahead, call my number, text or send a facebook message or email to me. Ask me anything. Force my hand and make a request, simple or complex, you pick. I will see if I can be like the corporate giants and save time by saying a simple NO. Someday though, I hope to hone those response skills.  I might calmly and rationally express without guilt or shame or fear of your opinions, that I am choosing to decline. In fact, I have decided to commit my time, energy or money to other things instead.

A few years ago, one wise person showed me the truth that I was lying to myself and to them, when I said ‘I can’t’. It was sort of devastating in the moment to realize that I had the power of yes, but wasn’t willing to step out of my comfort zone. I had the capacity, but not the gumption. I didn’t want to try as hard as I really could. And my way around those embarrassing choices was to say ‘I can’t.’

I don’t know if there are people who listen in to the phone conversations that I have had with the representatives from those big companies. If there are, I wonder if they feel that same twinge of regret when the answer comes down to ‘We can’t do that.’

I guess it’s sarcasm or me just going for the corny surprise-factor, to say I’m jealous of those entities who say ‘I can’t.’ I am glad that I don’t hide behind it day in and day out. I do know that it is an art form to construct and maintain your own personal boundaries. I have a lot to learn about that. I can’t always be out to please everyone, with a YES! smiling while over-promising and then sad-facedly under-delivering.

Knowing our own commitments so deeply that we choose, act and produce instantaneously is surely a high form of self-love and respect. You can see plainly that I am still working on this concept for myself, even with typing out these words, at 1:23am early on Friday morning. My commitments vary and flex and fall off and falter. So there, I am just as small and human and broken as anyone, and I guess it would be a lie to myself to say that ‘I can’t’ do anything about that.

Until next week, fortify your boundaries my friend. Defend them with your life. In short, just Choose, and don’t use those two cuss words… “I Can’t”


Aaron Nichols

One thought on “I want “I can’t.”

  1. “I can’t” deal with entities that are off shore like Budget Rental Car. I am an American doing business in and for Americans. I “can’t” make myself understand a heavy accent with emphasis on the wrong syllables making the conversation drag on and frustrate ones self. I “could” if I was booking a hotel or an event of I was traveling in their country. That is part of he outside America adventure. But by choice, I “can’t ” is a choice. The above is just one example. (use Avis, all Americans on the phone, or at least you can understand them). Nice read A!

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