What People Are Really Saying
When They Say
"You Can't Do It" 

Encouragement feels like a necessity. When you're starting a project, you can't help but want other people to support it. This may stem from our youth, when most of our teachers and loved ones told us we could do anything. Maybe we came to depend on it. As we get older, that encouragement begins to fade away. We're told our dreams of writing or singing or acting aren't "practical," "realistic," or "possible." Some naysayers may even tell you, "You can't do it." 

What does it mean when people say this? Do they actually think we aren't capable of this creative profession? It's a knee jerk reaction to take these kinds of comments personally. In most cases, when someone tells you that you can't do something, it says more about the person making the remark than it does about your creative abilities. The next time someone says something discouraging about your writing or other creative pursuit, here is a handy translation guide. 

What Are They Really Saying?

1. It's Going To Be Hard Work

While some people look before they leap, there are also those who look at least 12 times before they leap. Instead of seeing the finish line, this kind of person sees only the hurdles, only the potential difficulties. When a serial planner or pessimist says, "You can't do it," they're really saying that it's going to take a lot of effort to realize your dream. 

Creating a project like a novel or a play and making sure it's the best it can be does take a lot of work. When someone doesn't want you to have to deal with that work, it's because they don't want you to struggle. They don't want to see you have to put in the long hours and the sleepless nights. They equate difficult work with unhappiness. And that's totally fine for them. 

If this seems to be the translation of your friend, family member or loved one's negative declaration, try to reassure them that you relish the hard work and that it will all be worth it in the end. 

2. It Didn't Work Out For Me

Everybody has dreams. Most of them don't work out for one reason or another. It's usually a combination of things. It could be that this person failed to put in the time to figure out the right path toward the dream. It might be a lack of hard work (see number one). There's even a chance this person got within reaching distance of achieving their dream but failed to get the lucky breaks or final push to make it a reality. When a person who actively sought out and failed to achieve their dreams tells you, "You can't do it," it has to do with their failure, not with you. It's not worth taking it personally. 

The truth is this person may have a valid point, but that doesn't mean you should give up. Most goals are achievable with a combination of hard work, smart work and the help of others. Instead of telling this person, "I'm not like you, I'm gonna make it," recruit this individual's help. Asking for help is a great way to turn a naysayer into a supporter, particularly when you want the support of a former dreamer. If this person isn't willing to help, don't take it personally. Press on and try to learn from this person's mistakes. 

3. I Don't Want to Look Bad

This point of view is most likely to come from a parent or a guardian. Let's face it, the odds aren't always great for succeeding in creative professions. Some parents would much rather you play the odds and get a job that is more likely to make you a success. They may also want to look like a success by proxy. If you had your choice of saying you were the parent of a doctor or a failed writer, which would you choose?

The best way to deal with this kind of naysayer is to actually succeed. It will turn your parents into your biggest cheerleaders, even if they were previously against the idea. If you sell a million books or get on Broadway, you'll give them something they can tell their friends and the rest of the family. 

If you're on the path to success but you haven't quite reached it, try to avoid talking about your creative process with the "I don't want to look bad" naysayers to keep your spirits up through the long, hard hours.  

4. I Don't Understand Your Passion

This kind of naysayer is usually one or two generations older than you. If it's not completely out of place for them to start stories with the words "back in my day," you can probably put them in this category. The way we work and the types of jobs we have has changed a lot over the last 50 years. At one point, working 40-60 hours a week doing the same task was the best way to support a family. Creativity wasn't a priority. Nowadays, creative careers are popping up everywhere. Self-publishing for instance is so new, even people in your own generation may not be able to understand it.  

One of the ways to deal with this kind of naysayer is to show them the people who have succeeded by doing what you're trying to do. There's nothing like a success story or two to get somebody invested in your own personal path to triumph. This person may not get all of the details, but seeing that it's possible may be enough to get them on your side. 

5. I Love You

If there is crossover between these five potential meanings for the phrase, "You can't do it," it's likely that number five is a part of all the other true meanings. Your loved ones may want to dissuade you from this unusual creative path because they think that it will be painful. They want you to be safe and secure and taken care of. To make a long story short, they love you. 

These people would throw themselves under a bus to save you from failure. That's what they feel like they're doing when they tell you your career path isn't possible. You shouldn't yell at someone who would do something like that for you, even if they're misguided. How do you deal with a person who doesn't want you to pursue your dreams because they love you? Tell them you love them right back and keep on pressing toward your dream. 


Encouragement feels like a necessity, but it isn't. Don't focus on converting naysayers over to your side. Concentrate on building up your own self-esteem and optimism. At dawn and midnight, when you're putting in the hours necessary to be a success, other people won't always be there. But you will. Train yourself to be self-encouraging during those tough times. Don't worry, once you've had your first major success, the naysayers are likely to jump on the bandwagon to say, "I knew you could do it!" 

Done with What People Are Really Saying? Go back to Motivation Techniques. 

comments powered by Disqus

Written by Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on and Facebook.
Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Write a Story Based on These Prompts or This Article!

Use the above prompts or article as inspiration to write a story or other short piece.

[ ? ]

Upload 1-4 Pictures or Graphics (optional) [ ? ]


Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

(first or full name)

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

  •  submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)