4 Stages to go from “I can’t” to “I did”

For each beautiful butterfly, there was once a strange wingless creature that walked the earth. Yet, the caterpillar knows that there is a cycle that it must abide by. A cycle that presents many threats, but gaining wings is worth the risk.

While we are unable to grow physical wings, we are all given the opportunity to fly. The opportunity is there for those that can see the stages in the cycle. A cycle that exposes fear, the lack of action and becoming complacent. In my experience, this cycle has four stages.

Stage 1  : “I can’t do that”

Someone just told you about an amazing experience they had. It could be a trip to another part of the world, a career change, obtaining a degree, or maybe starting a new career. You congratulate them, but follow it up with “I can’t do that” or “I couldn’t do that”.

Remember when you where younger and nothing seemed impossible? You took on any challenge without a second thought. Well, until something happened. Maybe it was the first time that you felt the not so sweet embrace of concrete. Or was it the time when your first childhood crush told you that they didn’t like you? Of course it could have been the most damaging situation; where you’re parents tell you that it’s impossible. 

All of these experiences build who we become as adults. They form the basis of our beliefs and fears. Two elements that can control upward movement in life.

To move past this stage, you challenge your own thought process. When you say “I can’t” you must question why and determine how to change that believe.

Stage 2: “I’m planning on doing that”

You’ve processed the idea of doing something big and moved beyond the fear of change. In this second stage you commonly inform people that you plan on doing that. Whatever your “that” is.

At this stage, you’re friends will respond to your “plans” and state that they are excited for you. Your family will probably try to talk you out of it. Nothing matters though, because you plan to do it.

Oh, but then another shiny new idea pops into your head. Your old plan has gone the way the buffalo, and slowly moved on. I hate to say it but this process will repeat like a broken record.

I know this stage intimately. I was stuck in it for years. I always had ideas and would proudly tell everyone what I wanted to do. Of course, what I wanted to do and planned on doing would continuously change. I remember at one point my wife yelling “You always talk about doing something, but never actually do it”. In a way, that was my wakeup call.

There is only one way to transition from this stage to the next. You have to set a due date on your idea and do the scary part; you have to execute on an idea.

Stage 3 : “I’m doing it!”

My old CTO used to ask me every morning how I was doing. In response I would simple say “I’m OK”. The week after I put in my notice he asked me this same question. With a massive smile on my face I said “I am doing GREAT!”

You see, I didn’t want to do something new. I NEEDED it, but I was afraid to take action. It wasn’t until 3:28PM on a Friday when I walked into my managers office and quit did everything begin to take shape. This was the catalyst for a new beginning.

When you are in the “Doing it” phase, time moves at the rate of a humming birds heart. When obstacles occur, you find a way around them or smash them into pieces. You live, rather than talk about what you want to do.

As you do what you love, new people will enter your world. People that understand where you are as they’ve been there too.

Yet when you speak to the long standing members of your social circle about your experiences you hear that phrase again. I can’t do that. You know it’s coming before their lips part and exhale that first syllable.  In that moment you think back to when you said it. You know what’s going on in their head and can help them; if they ask for it.

Stage 4 : “I did it”

At some point, the rush will wear off. Your experience that changed you, becomes a fleeting memory. All that’s left are photographs, and maybe a few scars. That’s ok, scars are bad ass.

All of this is a cycle. At least it should be, as you have done this before. The problem that we face is getting stuck in one specific stage.

When we are stuck in the “I can’t” stage our self esteem is fragile and we can’t seem to find a way out. Depression becomes rampant and can easily destroy the strongest willed individual.

If stuck in “I’m planning on doing that” we think that we doing something big. Yet, all that’s happening is little bit of lip movement.

Sometimes people end up stuck in the “I’m doing it” stage. This is a good place to be for a while, but all around it’s dangerous. Everyone sticks here for a bit and may not know it. This is where complacency begins to kick in.

We also have those that remain with nothing but stories to tell. Remember the TV show ‘Married with Children”? Al Bundy was stuck in the “I did it” stage. His last exciting moment happened in 1966 at the City Championship game against Andrew Johnson High. Al scored the game winning touchdown with just seconds left on the clock.

At the end of the day, we are all in multiple stages of this cycle. What’s important is the realize where you are, and take action from there. We all have to face our fears, take action, live it, then move onto the next adventure.