Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lesson #5: Don't Believe Anyone Who Says "You Can't."

While in high school in Culver City, California,  I developed a fascination with Santa Cruz, and made it my goal to go to college there.  I obtained brochures, information, and visualized seeing myself belonging there, long before "picture boards" were in vogue.  But when I sat down with my guidance counselor and told her my intentions, she proceeded to pull out charts and graphs to explain why I would not be able to get in.  Citing my lackluster grades, mediocre S.A.T. scores, and all around lethargic attitude toward education, she recommended I not expend time and energy applying.

With tears in my eyes I left her office, and went to see my favorite teacher Nancy Goldberg, aka, "Goldie."  You may not recognize her name, yet she stands alone as one of the unsung heroes in public education in California.   For over four decades, she has counseled and guided thousands of outcasts and misunderstood youth, giving us the opportunity to be seen, recognized, supported, and understood. 

So when I came to her in 1988 with deflated hopes and broken dreams, I knew that I would get sympathy.  "What's goin' on?" she asked.  I told her of my experience with the guidance counselor.  "What college do you want to go?" she asked.  I explained how badly I wanted to go to Santa Cruz for school. "Well don't listen to that old bitch," she replied, "We'll get you in!"

Just like that, I believed again.  Having one adult express faith in my dream gave me the courage and conviction to fill out an application, write an essay, and send it in.  One year later, when my acceptance letter came, I was overwhelmed with shock, happiness, and vindication.  I ran back to school to find Goldie to show her the official document stating that I had made it in.  "Yeah, I knew it..." she said, and that was that.

I resolved from that experience to never again allow anyone or anything to quash my dreams.  Since 1988, I have learned that people in positions of authority in schools and bureaucracies rarely have an understanding of how day-to-day operations go on, and are typically the last person you want to take career advice from.  I have also learned that the individuals who do achieve success in this world, ie, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, or even Lady Gaga, have all had to rise above an oppressive chorus of "you can't" by ignorant and limited "experts."

Today I still keep in touch Goldie, and share with her the successes that she has helped to create. There is a special dedication in my book "Absolutely Should-less" that acknowledges her for being the first adult to teach me how to challenge the garbage I was being told was "true."  As she prepares to wind down her nearly half-century legacy at Culver City High School, I know that her courage and wisdom will carry on in the thousands of alumni she inspired who became parents, grandparents, doctors, nurses, policemen, actors, teachers, directors, entrepreneurs, technicians, writers, lawyers, scientists, artists, engineers, singers, geologists, musicians, and yes, therapists, all around the world.

And her message will persevere when you read this as well.  Do not let anyone tell you that you can't achieve what you want.  Do not allow anyone to hold dominion over your hopes and dreams.   And never give anyone the power to limit the expression of what is in your heart.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, body image, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at

**If you are in the New York City area, please come by for Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410*

Related Lessons:
Lesson #16: Life Is Better As An Outsider  
Lesson #21: Don't Condemn What You Don't Understand  
Lesson #36: Liberation Is Having The Audacity To Ask, "Why The Hell Not?"

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