The Can's & The Cannot's
There are a lot of things I can't do.
I can't stay up all night. I can't promise I'll never be late. I can't not eat pizza, with real cheese, once in a while (I know my limits). I can't be in two places at once. I can't watch reality TV. I can't get through most weeks without a surge of outward emotion: crying, usually. I can't rap--I have tried and it is just not meant to be folks. I can't sit with my knees at a 90 degree angle for very long (movie theaters with reclining seats are life changing to me and long days in the car get pretty fidgety). I can't sing below an E. I can't be mean to strangers. I can't drink Red Bull, and I can't cross the border back into Canada until at least July 21 (perhaps even longer). I could delve further into more and less obvious personal "can't"s but that's not actually what this blog is about.
There is not a single 'good use' for focusing on the things you can't do for longer than one millisecond. Writing out a few basic "can't"s above was actually a bit tricky for me, because I've trained myself not to focus my attention that sh*t, unless I'm actively working to change the thing (for example, with a few days or weeks of focus I could probably figure out how to sing lower than a low E, or rap better than a 9 year old). To that point, my friend, Robert Wilson, taught me that in reality, there is no can't. But that is a blog post already written years ago, and that doesn't negate the fact that we make up 'can't's and focus on them until we're blue in the face anyway. So, this blog post offers a simple rewiring of the focus, from what you "can't do" to what you "can do".
Our biggest cannot's, right now, are overwhelming us. We cannot fathom the levels of systemic racial injustice in American society, or the many ways the average US resident is being uniformly f**ked over by manipulative corporate schemes and greedy capitalist lawmakers. We cannot bring back the lives of so many Coronavirus victims who may not have been taken had the country and leadership been more united and prepared. We cannot bring radical police and community reform overnight. We can't just splurge on tickets to a major league sport or music festival and forget our cares. We can't send our kids to school or now-defunct extracurricular programs. We cannot go back to living the way we used to live, in too many ways to count.
Perhaps you've figured this out in your end of the pandemic, that the only viable option is to focus on what we CAN do in THIS moment.
We can't fix everything that's wrong with the world in one day, or week, or month, or even year, but we can approach each moment of our day with a little more empathy and a little more hope. We can't erase our traumas and insecurities, but we can be more open and present in our relationships, especially the ones holding our quarantine lives together. We can't solve the crisis of COVID-19 or the November election on social media, but we can be more thoughtful, take safety precautions, and educate ourselves, one day at a time. We can find grassroots organizations and candidates who reflect our values and learn from/support their efforts. We can read up on the civil rights movement and create space for more underserved voices to empower themselves to be heard. We can take a moment or two to just be grateful as the day progresses. We can unplug and take an hour or a whole day in self care mode, to stock up on good vibes and good health for the long, unpredictable road ahead. We can choose content that elevates the human condition or soothes the spirit without hurting the cause. We can do so much... as long as we're not sabotaging ourselves at every turn by holding our attention on cannot's.
For me, today: I struggled with so many things. What am I going to do for money/work when unemployment runs out? How am I going to get through this day with my health and sanity intact, while also feeling like I did 'enough' in the name of social justice? How can I inject meaning and even joy into this day full of COVID statistics and tough facts?
I couldn't really focus on work in the short term, except to reassure myself that I'm valuable, skilled, hardworking, and deeply cared for. But I could do some research on continuing my writing education, which led me down a very excited rabbit hole (news to come). I couldn't fully come to grips with the state of America, but I could get stoked on some incredible leaders, pundits, and teams of organizers working to uncover and reform government and economic systems. What a relief, to know that people like Hasan Minhaj are bringing the world facts, wrapped in much needed humor, and fresh avenues of education and resistance. Hasan Minhaj couldn't reform the underfunded IRS and corrupt tax prep companies like TurboTax, but he could make a website that simplifies free qualified tax filing, littered with jokes to make your day more than once. He couldn't deliver justice for George Floyd himself, but he could sit down with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and ask all the questions we need answers to (again, with much appreciated cleverness and humor).
Not every day can be packed with "everything you need to reach your goals and make the world better", but shifting your focus to the next thing you can do, or the next helpful thought you can think, can make those less 'productive' days just as crucial to your long term fulfillment. Taking note of the people in your life, the media sources, and the celebrities focused on can's instead of cannot's is a great way to shift your own focus too. Find the solution-oriented influencers who jive with you and have their content/messages ready for the days when you need them most.
So, what CAN you choose to think or do or accept after reading this that might contribute to a little more purpose and happiness in your evening? Don't overthink it. :)