The “You Can’t Do It” Voices

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

I have a brain that persists in telling me that I am Doing It Wrong and that Everyone Else Is More Capable Than You and also that This Is Hard and You Can’t Do It, Ha Ha. What is “This”? Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s my day job. Sometimes it’s adulting.

I would just like to register, for the record, some recent evidence to the contrary. Since I’ve blogged before about how the brain-voices relate to writing, this time I’ll focus on other parts of Life.

Exhibit 1: The Day Job

I’ve held the same job for nearly 12 years. Parts of it I’m really good at. Other parts still make me flail around. But on the whole, my You Can’t Do It voices have learned to be quiet more often than not. Then, last fall, my boss asked me to train with a co-worker who was retiring, so I could hold down the fort until she could be replaced. Her position doesn’t have much overlap with mine; I don’t really have the background for the job. To make things trickier, I still needed to do my regular job too (luckily we were able to shift around some of the workload and responsibilities). Cue the voices, loud and clear. But saying no wasn’t an option. I said yes.

So far, I haven’t made any horrible mistakes that cost lots of money. I’ve kept things going, mostly. It’s been a scramble sometimes, keeping up with both jobs. Especially when the senior person I work with in my old/usual job goes on holiday and leaves me in charge. But I’m doing it, and not only am I doing the new job, I think I might have gotten better at the old job in the process. (I’ll still be glad when the hiring process is finished, though. Except then I’ll have to train the new person…)

Exhibit 2: My Dance Community

I wrote a couple of weeks ago at my own blog about my contra dance community and how it’s helped me do scary things over the last six years. But it’s more than that. See, I’ve always been terrible at small talk…but contra forces you to have 5-minute conversations all the time while you’re waiting for the next dance to start. All that practice adds up: now I can do it at work and in random settings, too. I’ve always had trouble making friends, and indeed when I first started contra, I had a terrible time “breaking in” (that small talk again). Lucky thing I got hooked on the actual dancing…now it’s ridiculous how many dance friends I have. In fact, I seem to have become part of the “in” group, to the extent that now I need to make an effort to look out for the people who aren’t.

And not only that. Last year I joined the volunteer committee and put my writing and technical skills to work doing the newsletter and some of the social media outreach. Already this year I’ve applied some social skills I didn’t know I had to help negotiate a delicate situation, I’m working on some documentation we needed, and I even got up front with a microphone to lead a dance (more about that in the link above). Suddenly I’m in a leadership role–me!–and I don’t even know how that happened. And it’s barely February.

Exhibit 3: Being Handy

I am not handy in the least. It doesn’t come naturally to me. (Case in point: most of our furniture comes from IKEA, and after a certain point, we just threw in the towel and started paying them to assemble it.) But my spouse and I really wanted to buy a house, so five years ago we plunked down for a 1920s brick home, and here we are. This is not an “and then we gutted and replaced our own kitchen!” story. Our successes are much, much smaller. But we’ve learned a lot about gardening, replaced our front door deadbolt lock, and most recently, I was quite proud of myself for reasoning my way through replacing the battery in a wired-in smoke detector. (It wasn’t obvious! It required logic! Logic is hard!)


  • Some of the things that your brain tells you are hard or scary can be learned through practice.
  • Even when you are over 30 (or whatever age you think you ought to be to already know this stuff).
  • The voices in my head are outdated and ought to get with the program.
  • I know better than that. It’s an ongoing battle.
  • But one that, like the exhibits above, might just get easier with time.

Do you have similar voices in your  head? Any tales of successes that surprised you? I’d love to hear them!


  1. Around here I’m the higher-level adult. That is certainly terrifying! But I don’t have a choice, can’t let the girls down. So I make it work and, according to the kid anyway, I make it look easy. Sometimes even I start thinking I’m competent at it.

  2. Funny thing about that…pretend you know what you’re doing for long enough, and it might become reality! (Take THAT, Imposter Syndrome.)

  3. Awesome, Siri! I have those voices too, and I’ve learned that it’s best to just do it (whatever “it” is) anyway. They’ll eventually get the message. 😉

  4. Thanks, Erin. I’m glad I’m not alone!

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