. . .But What If You Can’t? A Brief Critique of “I Can-ism.”

“Be a movie star
or rock the main stage
An XBox tester
or an astronaut in space
If they tell you that you can’t
you can shove it in their face
I can I can I can so

A hundred thousand disbelievers couldn’t keep me on the ground
I’ve invented a momentum that’ll never slow me down
I believe it ’cause I feel it and I shout it out loud
I can I can I can so”

Anything, Hedley

Hedley: What do you believe in?

Crowd: Me!

Hedley: And why do you believe it!

Crowd: Because I feel it!

Terrified of having to compromise your integrity by wading waist-deep through Hollywood sleaze? You can still be a movie star! Tone-deaf? Can’t fit in skinny jeans? You can still rock the main stage! Weighing the probability of beating out the gazillion other would-be Xbox testers? Take that steaming pile of self-doubt and smear it in their (the doubters) face! Do you collapse in a vomit-covered mess after five minutes in a human centrifuge? Never mind – you can be an astronaut – because you feel it! And when you don’t feel it, you can always SHOUT IT OUT LOUD.

This kind of philosophy really only works on the radio, supplemented by heaping portions of arbitrary “Na na na’s.” Because when you’re intoxicated on zeitgeist daiquiris, you really can shout anything, because everyone else is too busy throwing up their fists to pay any attention.The moment the lyrics are displaced from their natural, bass-led habitat however, you have Zeus without his lightning bolt, a storm without a rainbow, Gene Simmons without his disturbingly long tongue.

In the hot-air of the moment, this seems like the kind of thing someone might shout during a liberty march – but can you imagine trying to live with someone who consistently lives out such a philosophy? Can you imagine if this someone was your child? “Dad, I want to be an Xbox tester. I know it just sounds like a juvenile ambition which will enable me to maintain my childhood in the name of a career, but I feel it dad, and if you don’t believe in my dreams – well, you can just exit stage-left.”

Except that we don’t have to imagine it, because we live in it – most people just have the social conditioning to disguise it in a skimpy negligee so it sounds sexy and progressive.

But this inspiring little ditty didn’t emerge from the vacuum of space. Just as bacteria proliferate in the warmth of a lab-situated petri dish, so demi-omnipotates tend to multiply in the warm soup which says that sheer self-belief is the only invisible and undeniable power of the universe. It doesn’t matter how many objective facts might prove otherwise; it doesn’t matter how many reasonable people suggest you might be in the wrong. It doesn’t even matter if the road turns dark and sinister and all the trees look like they want to eat you. This is the RIGHT road because it’s the road you’ve chosen.

And maybe you can, and maybe you will. But, and not to be a Debbie downer (cue sliding trombone), what happens if you don’t get the grades you need to qualify for NASA’s pilot program? What happens if arthritis stonewalls your hope of ever shredding solos from a stage? What happens if a spouse, or child, becomes seriously ill and you have to pawn your “I can’s” for “I could have’s” and bear the un-glamorous responsibility of caring for them?

In those moments, one of two thing may happen.

In the first scenario, your entire reason for living disintegrates and you spend the rest of your days bitter and resentful at your lot in life. As you grow older and this slow poison seeps into your bones, your existence becomes an opportunity to translate those failed ambitions into blame, which you heap on everyone else. Having ostracized family and friends, you will likely die alone – unactualized and unrealized – in the recline position of your lazy-boy.

In the second scenario you realize, late one night as you feed ice chips to your failing mother, that life is a gift, and that it was never actually about you. That all that nonsense about doing what you wanted to do at the expense of everyone else is actually a bloody selfish way to live. At that moment, as you step off the train of self-invented momentum you may find yourself breathing the breath of free, self-forgetful air.

At the end of the day, maybe you can – but should you?


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