In my latest book, Detour, I talk at length about the word Can’t. Can’t is an abysmal word and, in fact, it’s made even worse by the fact that it is self-directed. How many times have we caught ourselves saying that we just can’t do something? We convince ourselves we have always done something in a certain way, that’s who we are, and we’ll never be able to achieve a goal we perceive as being way beyond our reach. We provide reasons why we can’t instead of why we can.
Thirteen years ago, Under Armour became a household name when the brand asked athletes everywhere to “Protect this House.” The response in the iconic commercial, and throughout the years, has been the same: I WILL! Today, Under Armour inspires the next generation of athletes to unleash their inner resolve.
While most of us have heard of Under Armour, I am willing to wager a pair of Steelers tickets that you have not heard of the Blue Apple Theatre Company in Winchester, England. The theater company specializes in performing Shakespeare and other difficult plays. The difference here is that the actors all have learning disabilities—in fact, several have Down syndrome.
I would like to let that settle in for a second. This is an ensemble company performing plays such as Hamlet, with extremely complex language and a tremendous range of emotions, using actors that are all too often pushed aside by society.
Wait. It gets more amazing. According to William Jessop, the director of Blue Apple Theatre, the art of teaching proper diction of the Old English words and phrases to those with Down syndrome is much more difficult than to those of us with no disabilities. Individuals with Down syndrome have thicker tongues and different facial features. They must work twice as hard to get understood, and then comes the difficulty of memorization.
What really floored me was the following observation made by Mr. Jessop back in 2012 for the Arts & Entertainment section of Ouch! magazine:
“When I gave actors lines to perform at the start, they said them with incredible emotion, even though they didn’t know what the words meant. We then went through each part of the original story, making sure that each line, and then each word, was understood by everyone.”
The actors with disabilities are really acting. They aren’t faking, and they aren’t performing like parrots. The remarkable thing was the intensity with which they were able to feel emotions. What was both troubling and beautiful was Jessop’s reflection that when the actors understood what Shakespeare was intending with some of the lines, they could not understand how people could be so mean and cruel to one another. To that point, the plays will include modified language that is more acceptable emotionally to the actors. While the performances are more abbreviated than a full Shakespearian play, the quality of the performances is quite astounding. In fact, William Jessop’s brother, 27-year-old Tommy Jessop, who often appears in Blue Apple Theatre productions, has just been nominated for a prestigious British movie award for his role in a BBC drama. Tommy Jessop has Down syndrome.
Find Your Why
The first time I saw a video clip of a Shakespeare rehearsal scene with Down syndrome actors, I was moved to tears, but not for the obvious reasons. Clearly, every one of the actors understood and embraced the huge challenges in front of them: speaking Shakespearean English, moving, dancing (even sword fighting), sometimes singing, memorization, acting and, of course, stage fright. In interviews with the media, they were self-aware, honest and open. As impressive as all of that was, it was not why I was so moved.
I was so moved because not once did I hear the word Can’t. They did not say, “I can’t act, can’t speak clearly, can’t move properly, can’t memorize, can’t sing, can’t figure out what it means.” The word was nowhere to be heard in their vocabularies. They never offered up excuses or gave explanations as to why they couldn’t. Instead, they woke up every day and put in the time, energy and effort it took to realize their goals.
Isn’t it time to take your first step toward your goals and dreams whatever they may be? Start by eliminating the word can’t and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. There is unbelievable greatness in you. You must take that first step. If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. When your “why I can” becomes bigger than your “why I can’t,” you will find your how. Yes, you can do!