For a Better Life, Turn Your “I Can’t” Into an “I Can”

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For a Better Life, Turn Your "I Can’t" Into an "I Can"

It’s a little surreal for me to reflect on my life and see how far we’ve come. By far, I feel we now have a better life than I could have ever imagined.

We’re financially independent and no longer report to “the man.” We’ve taken advantage of our early retirement freedom to spend more time being a part of our daughter’s life as she grows up, We’ve all stepped out of our comfort zone and have been living in Panama since 2019.

Throw in that I’ve been working out religiously since I’ve retired and have been cutting back on my drinking and I’m now healthier, too. I recently hiked up Volcán Barú, the tallest point in all of Panama, for Pete’s sake!

I don’t necessarily equate a better life with money. However, having enough money certainly does help give you more choices and freedom, which can lead to a better life if leveraged correctly.

What I’ve noticed throughout close to a decade now though is that what we’ve done and continue to do isn’t the norm. Saving more money, learning more about investing, buying rental properties, cutting back on frivolous spending, moving to Panama – these are all things that seem foreign to a lot of folks.

And because of that, there was quite a bit of disbelief about what we were doing. Unfortunately, that sometimes led us to start questioning if we could even make it happen. With the pushback from society’s norms, you start to think, “Maybe I can’t do this.”

But we had a goal. I wanted a better life. I wanted to be able to spend more time with my daughter as she grew up. I wanted the choice in how each of my days would go.

So we pushed forward with more of a “why not” attitude. Slowly but surely, we moved the “I can’t” because of XYZ into an “I can” mentality.

Now, what’s interesting is that the further we’ve gone down this path, the easier it’s become to have an “I can” mindset. Not only did we make the money side of the equation happen, but we’ve continued to do things that are outside of our comfort level.

The funny thing is, I can wholeheartedly say that this “I can” attitude has led to a much better life. And it seems to continue to improve even more over time.

The current “you can’t do that” narrative is everywhere

It seems like everyone loves to quote Robert Kiyosaki (generally without attribution) from his book, Rich Dad Poor Dad. He professes that we’re raised to go to school, get good grades, and aim to find a high-paying job with good benefits. I’d say that the narrative usually continues with buying a nice house, maybe having kids, and then working until you pretty much can’t anymore.

Love or hate Kiyosaki, it’s hard to argue that most of us were just raised with this being the general path you’re “supposed” to follow in life.

If you start to stray too far outside of these boundaries, you might find yourself being judged a little more. Want to start a business or buy some rental properties, for instance, and you start getting patronizing smiles from friends and family. I’m sure they’ll be talking about you behind your back once that conversation is over.

That’s part of the problem – you can dream all you want but if you start acting on it, people think you’re crazy.

Imagine the double crusher we had in letting folks know that we were retiring in our early forties for a better life and moving to Panama… I thought people’s heads were going to explode!

Living a better life at the Show Pony Resort in Las Lajas, Panama
Living a better life at the Show Pony Resort in Las Lajas, Panama!

We, unfortunately, live in a society where even though you’re told you can be anything or do anything, that’s only a half-truth. You can be or do anything, but if you actually do decide you want to do something outside of the status quo, it’s not really encouraged. The what-ifs start gushing out of people’s mouths as if you said that you’re planning to jump into an alligator’s jaws.

Simply put, people struggle to see others doing something that they could never imagine themselves doing.

So it’s no surprise that we daydream about doing something but never make it happen. The lack of support is hard to overcome and essentially, we’re scared of failure.

So instead of giving it a shot, we let the “can’t do it” attitude stop us from leading a better life. This can be anything from:

  • Finding a new job
  • Changing careers
  • Starting a business
  • Saving/investing more than others
  • Exploring new hobbies/passions
  • Doing something outside of your wheelhouse
  • Living differently than others

This list can go on and on. And this isn’t just about finances – this is about anything in life that’s just different from what most folks do.

Different is scary and can instill that “I can’t” fear in your head.

“I can” your way to happiness

Here’s the thing though, changing to an “I can” attitude can absolutely lead to a better life. If you’re doing something that you know is best for you and won’t hurt anyone else, that’s inevitably going to lead to more happiness.

I was one of those people who got those good grades in school, went to college, got my bachelor’s degree, and found a nice high-paying job. I got married to a wonderful wife, had an awesome daughter, and lived in a beautiful house in the suburbs. I was on the “right track” by society’s expectations.

Something still wasn’t right though and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It turns out that I didn’t know that there was a better life out there that was attainable… that is until I stumbled upon Joe Udo’s Retire by 40 blog years ago.

Early retirement turned out to be a giant part of the answer for a better life for me (that’s not to say it’s the right answer for you).

Realizing that by resisting the narrative and figuring out the “I can” mentality to make it happen was huge. My happiness level jumped upon that epiphany, continued to grow while on the path, and is on a whole new level once we reached that point of freedom at the end of 2018.

Lisa, Faith, and Jim - Happy together at the Show Pony Beach Resort

The World Happiness Report 2022 just came out and shows the U.S. ranking as #16 for happiness around the world with an average life evaluation of 6.977 out of 10. Now, before we harp on this too much, it’s important to note that these numbers are based on a three-year-average from 2019 to 2021, which happen to be the same years of the pandemic.

I don’t want to downplay this – COVID caused a lot of physical and mental anguish around the world. And if you or your family were affected directly or indirectly, my heart goes out to you. This was horrible on so many levels.

In our case, we had some tough times as well when they locked down Panama completely for a few months and we couldn’t even leave our condo with very minimal exceptions. That was mentally taxing but that was really the worst of it for us. We were fortunate to be in the position we’re in that we weren’t affected as much as others.

Those few months aside though, I feel like my happiness level just continues to increase more and more.

So why is that?

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s related to two things:

  • Early retirement and financial stability
  • Losing the “I can’t” and thinking “why not?” instead

Not having to stress about work or money is a burden we don’t worry much about… that’s a huge factor toward a better life in my book. It’s funny when Faith gets disappointed during times I’m working on a blog post on a random evening once a week because it cuts into our time together. If you only knew, kid!

Coincidentally, the early retirement side of things is also rooted in removing the “I can’t” mentality. If I had just looked at what’s considered normal in society, there’s no way we would have been able to make this happen.

The second factor is working on an “I can” mentality. I like trying new things… that wasn’t always the case but it’s growing on me.

The biggest example of that was our move to Panama. I’m sure many of you can think of a million reasons why you can’t just pick up and move to another country… but is that really the case? I’m not able to respond to that one for you.

Initially, Panama was an answer to be able to reach financial independence sooner. But then Lisa recognized that if we didn’t like it here, we would either have to stay in the country unhappily or come back to the U.S. and go back to work. Good call… so I continued working until we had enough saved to cover living in the U.S. as well.

But then we thought, “why not move there anyway?”… so we did.

It’s been quite an adventure since and it just continues to evolve and get better. Even though we’re moving back to the U.S. in a few weeks, I’m excited about what our next chapter will be once we’re back.

A better life means less “I can’t” and more “I can”

If you’re one of those folks whose happiness level isn’t where you want it to be, it’s time to take stock of your life and figure out why. Trying to keep up with the Joneses, spending too much time on social media envious of the perfect lives others supposedly have, and watching the news all the time while shaking your head isn’t going to do it.

Dive deep and truly figure out what would make you happy. If you had all the money and all the time in the world, what would you want to be doing on a day-to-day basis?

Question why you can’t do whatever it is. Then, remove that “I can’t” attitude that’s been ingrained into us by society and replace it with an “I can” mentality. And then figure out how to make it happen – whatever it’ll take – and do it.

If it means downsizing your home or moving to a lower cost-of-living area to free up money to make your dream come true and lead a better life, is it worth it? I would say yes, but you’ll need to decide that for yourself.

It’s easy to think, “I can’t do that” with something, and then just move on. It’s low risk and you don’t fail if you don’t try it.

However, you’re missing out on living a better life from so many angles. Yes, the money side is one aspect that can be tremendously valuable as it provides the opportunity for so much more freedom in life.

But just stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new can be so fulfilling and rewarding as well. Why can’t you entertain the idea of:

  • Public speaking
  • Doing volunteer work
  • Learning a new instrument
  • Writing a book
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Going skydiving
  • Pursuing financial independence
  • Starting a business
  • Buying rental property
  • Changing careers
  • Getting that degree you’ve always considered
  • Living in another country either part or full time
  • Running a marathon
  • Spending less time at work and more time with family
  • Traveling more

It used to be hard for me to remove the “I can’t” from my attitude and to entertain the “why not” more. But I’ve found that it’s become easier over time and life continues to improve as a result of those decisions.

Pursuing and reaching financial independence (and early retirement) and moving to Panama are probably the biggest “I can” changes in my life. However, that mentality has also helped me to do other things in life such as:

These are just a handful of the cool and fun things that come to mind. Funny enough, most of these have happened just within the last few years. Why would that be? Because that’s when I changed my attitude to “why not” instead of “I can’t.”

Living a better life after successfully climbing to the top of Volcán Barú!

Faith and I are now also discussing skydiving. We’d both like to try it so I told her that we’ll go together once she’s 18 (the minimum age legally allowed). This is completely out of my realm and I know I’ll probably freak out (I’m getting anxious just thinking about it!), but life is about new adventures and forgoing the “I can’t” mentality. That’s what leads to a better life.

Limiting yourself to the small bubble you’re familiar with is easy but also less interesting. Life only gets better when you start to try new things. Some you’ll hate and some you’ll love, but you never know until you move out of what you’re familiar with and try something new.

Sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised by what you can do in life. Make changes that’ll make you happy even if they seem a little crazy. You absolutely can do it!

Stop refusing to take reasonable risks in life because you’re afraid of failure.

You’re the only one who can build a better life for yourself. Only you know what defines happiness for you. Take some chances and make it happen.

Are you living the life you want or do you need to change your thinking to make a better life for yourself?

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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8 thoughts on “For a Better Life, Turn Your “I Can’t” Into an “I Can””

  1. Hey, if you want to just jump from a mountain try paragliding! Out here in Issaquah WA I watch people paraglide right off Poo Poo Point!

  2. Like what you said about societal norms and just not feeling quite right. I feel like I’m close to FI, crunch the numbers often, but have to wait on my last son to graduate high school. Great stuff though and it’s good to identify with others who have the same feelings of “this is not quite right.”

    1. Financial independence has given me the opportunity to really get on the other side of things and no longer feel obligated to just go with the flow. Instead, I feel like every day is now a chance to really experience life. It’s like a whole new world and it sounds like you’re already on track to be doing the same!

  3. Couldn’t agree more Jim! I’ve been trying to teach my kids this “I can” attitude about things, but I’ve noticed they’ve begun to fall for that societal training already and say “I can’t”.

    It takes a different kind of person to go against the grain of “how things should be done.” You and I are the nails that stick out.

    1. The best thing we have going for us is that our kids will learn by watching us. Even “just” the FIRE side of things is something that they’re taking mental notes on and hopefully subconsciously thinking, “if he can do it, so can I… and better!” 🙂

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