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The Can-Do Attitude - A Gift or Burden?

At the top of my CV it states, “I consider myself to be an optimistic person with a can-do attitude”. It has been there for over 10 years but when I looked at it recently, for the first time I asked myself, “What on earth does that actually mean?”

Is it a state of mind; an attitude; an approach to tackle anything life throws at you? It seems ambiguous now.

Initially, I thought it read well. I wanted to present myself as someone who could achieve great things when focused, with the potential to become a great asset, once given the chance. I did my best to live up to this statement. I tapped into my mantra of having a Positive Mental Attitude and it was a breeze. Everything I put my hand to – I did it and I did it well.

I wanted to learn foreign languages, travel to as many countries as possible and play musical instruments. So, I learnt to speak fluent French; worked as Cabin Crew and played the keyboards in a band.

However, after a while my can-do’s started to become my can-not’s. I was not prepared for this and I saw this as failure.

Through hindsight, I now recognise why this changed. I did not know how to say “No!” Just because I knew how to perform a task, didn’t mean that I had to be the one to do it.

I would say yes to things because I was from the life school of “Leave it with me and I will come back to you.” I would research what I needed to know and practically became an information junkie, overloading my head with details that were totally unnecessary. Eventually, there was no balance between work and home life. Working 12-hour days to prove my fidelity to my employer didn’t mean anything if I didn’t get things done properly.

The turning point was learning that one of Richard Branson’s keys to success was if he didn’t know how to do something – he hired someone who did. On my promotion to Training Manager at IRSMarketing, my CEO, Iain Borrowman said, “Sam – I really like your attitude towards your work, the only thing is that sometimes, you need to say ‘No’. You can’t do everything.”

Eureka! The penny dropped. Delegation is the way forward and ultimately, it helped improve my work methods and my time management.

Now, when I identify this behavioural trait in some of our team members, I encourage them with a simple but powerful quote: “Don’t let what you cannot do, interfere with what you can do.” (John Wooden Head Basketball Coach at the University of California). Simultaneously re-enforcing my brain to think same way.

Sooner or later, when you change “I can’t” into “I can”, pretty soon you will say “I did”.


Samantha Pullen

Training Manager, IRSMarketing

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