Focus On What You Can Do and Not What You Can’t Do

Last week I wrote a piece that centered around a TED talk, and in watching that talk I came across another talk that struck a chord with me. (I swear I don’t spend all day listening to TED talks). This was a presentation by a 17 year old by the name of Sam Berns. Sam suffers from a condition called Progeria, or in pop culture sometimes inaccurately referred to as the ‘Benjamin Button disease’. In the beginning of his talk, he gives a great piece of advice that I given much thought to: he says “be ok with what you ultimately can’t do because there is so much you can do.” Here is a teenager stricken with a debilitating, fatal disease, yet he is able to see through the many activities he cannot perform and focuses on what he able to do.

There was an HBO documentary about Sam
There was an HBO documentary about Sam

After thinking about it, his situation is similar to mine in many ways. For both of us there are countless activities we can’t perform, but many tasks we can do. For me, my walking and talking difficulties may preclude me from a number of endeavors but if I spent my time thinking of all I couldn’t do, instead of what I can do I might become overwhelmed by my ‘limitations’. Yes, of course there are times when I see someone jogging or playing basketball, or even singing a well-known song, and get jealous—I’ll admit that the thought I wish I could do that or I’ll never be able to do that comes across my mind—I am human and think those thoughts are inevitable. It would be unreasonable to aim to never think of your limitations and their implications. What is reasonable is to try and quell the amount of time spent dwelling on your limitations to focus more on what you can do. In my case, even though this tumor may mean I won’t become a marathon runner, I’m lucky in that I still have the use of my mind and can read, write, and manage patients. When I thought about this more, I realized that Sam’s advice is not only relevant to persons with disabilities, but to everyone. We all have our own limitations, from claustrophobia to a fear of heights to heart disease. We cannot control these,;we can take medications and have interventions in an attempt to lessen their effects, but their imprint will be forever etched in us. But what we can control is how much of our minds and time we spend thinking about these ‘limitations’. My aim, like Sam said, is to minimize the time spent (wasted) on what I can’t do, and maximize my efforts to what I can do. I hope you do the same, join me in this undertaking.

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