Joking about all of the things I didn’t seem to do right, my 97-year-old father tilted his head and went silent. It was 2012, the year of his passing, and he was preparing to impart his final words of wisdom.
“Why do you do that?” he grumbled.
“Do what?” I questioned, confused.
“You’re always downgrading your ability,” he said. “You’re so much better than that.”
Stopping for a moment to reflect, I sadly had to agree. For as long as I could remember, I’d been the queen of self-deprecation, but I had my reasons.
“Dad, you’re right,” I said. “When I was young, I was constantly teased for being a dork. But then I discovered that if I got them to laugh with me rather than at me, it was far less painful. So I made the joke first. I guess old habits die hard.”
With all of his fatherly love, Dad smiled sympathetically and responded, “Your words become your reality, even things you joke about, so choose wisely.”
I think we’ve all heard that language is a powerful tool. When used properly, and with kindness, it can elevate the spirit to its highest level. When ugly or mean, its sharpness slices the heart into a thousand pieces. Without even knowing it, I’d allowed my speech to become my worst enemy and the most formidable foe – “I can’t.”
When I became a single mom in 2001, “I can’t” became my immediate go-to phrase. It was my coat of armor and best excuse to protect me from doing anything outside my comfort zone. Announcing, “I can’t do that,” “I can’t go there” or even “I can’t afford that” shielded me from self-perceived failure because I couldn’t keep up with those who seemed to have it all.
One day, while moaning about life’s unfairness and how others were able to take lovely vacations, go on shopping sprees or buy a new car, a male friend who’d become sick of hearing me wail finally called me on the carpet. (Men are so much more direct than women.)
“You have the money. And, if you wanted to, you could sell your house for more,” he began, irritated. “You’re just choosing not to.”
Feeling as if I’d just been hit in the face with a glass of cold water, I paid special attention. He was right. If I wanted to, I could spend my money however I pleased. I wasn’t that broke, but I did have bills that needed attending to first, and I wasn’t ready to sell my home. Without recognizing or honoring it, I was actually choosing to be responsible.
Realizing that I’d been acting like that sniveling poor relation who constantly feels sorry for herself, I decided to recalibrate my language. I expunged “can’t” from my vocabulary and replaced it with “choose.”
At first, it was a little tricky. Conditioning can be stronger than we think. But each time I announced that I was “choosing” not to take on a new project, travel to a far-off land or spend money on frivolous things, I found myself feeling empowered. It may not have been fun, but for the first time, I was consciously in control of my life.
What we say creates an energy flow around us, whether we speak out loud or in our minds. And, let’s face it – would you rather be with a positive person or a whiner?
Now, when I pick out that special outfit each morning to look and feel my best, I think my words should be carefully picked, too. As the old saying goes, “Change your words, change your world,” and I want my world healthy in mind and body, strong and beautiful.