I was taught never to say “can’t.” It was as forbidden in my house as any other four letter word, and I understand why: to prevent a lazy acceptance of first failures. Yet there are things, a multitude in fact, that I cannot and will never be able to do. I can’t dunk a basketball. I can’t see without glasses or comprehend higher math or paint like Caravaggio. The list of things I cannot, and will never be able to do regardless of my effort, grows with each passing year.
While initially depressed by this realization, I now find it a relief. Because I have finally come to a point in my life when I am able to openly admire someone else’s gifts and say, without envy or self-loathing: “Oh wow! I can’t do that.” And then return to what I can do, and do it well.
My job, I think, is to learn from the unmatchable mastery of others, to cultivate the joy of self-discovery, and to guard against envy and self-deprecation. My job is to discover the limits of my abilities, to make something new and original, however I am able, and to offer it humbly.