Success comes in cans

Anyone who was at the schoolhouse with me in San Diego will remember the poster on our boss’s door. The first line said: Success comes in cans. The second line: Failure comes in can’ts. I always thought that poster was corny, but it stuck with me. First off, corny works. Second, the sign on the door summed up just about everything that was going to be my future success.

Just as the front of the building had the word “opportunity” on the front in huge letters so every class picture would have it in the background, the poster on his door made a statement about attitude. One day, he came to me and said, “Jamie, I need someone to take on a new job, and I think you’re the best person for it. Can you do it?”

Maybe he was a criminal mastermind who somehow hypnotized me with that gaudy orange and green poster, or perhaps I was just eager to please at a new place in a new position. Either way, I said yes, I can do that.

For some odd reason, he saw potential in me and offered an opportunity that I did very well with. That one chance to say yes broadened my visibility at the organization, put me in front of three times as many people, and started the momentum that has resulted in me being where I am today, which is pretty awesome. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t said yes that one time.

Thinking back, this success over the second half of my career has come in half a dozen cans:

– Can I go to sea for the first time, far too late in my career?

– Can I take on a new position and make things better for my community?

– Can I go to someplace new and create some change?

– Can I leave my community to try something new and a bit intimidating?

– Can I focus on the job in front of me right now and do it to the best of my ability?

– Can I pursue my dreams, even when it brings the constant risk of public criticism?

Those are my half-dozen cans. A single “can’t,” and there’s no telling where I’d be today. I guarantee I wouldn’t be sharing this article with you. But, who was I saying yes to? Was it my Masterchiefs, my school director, my mentors? Yes and no.

First, I said yes to them because that was how I got the opportunities. Sooner or later, the question came back again once I saw what was in front of me clearly, and I had to ask myself. Can I do this, and can I do it well? Sooner or later, I said yes, I can do this. No matter who else I initially said yes to, I had to say yes to myself to really succeed.

I wasn’t and still am not alone. There is support. People want the chance to help, to participate and add value, just like I did. I’m successful because of the support I’ve had along the way.

Now, a decade after that first yes, that first can, I come knocking to offer opportunity. First, people say yes to me, because people generally do. Later, they say yes to themselves, they can do this, and they give themselves permission to try. They realize they can, and that they aren’t alone.

Guess who else can…

You’re not alone. People want to participate, they want to help and add value, but you need to say yes, first to someone like me who is offering opportunity. Then, when you see it all clearly, say yes to yourself. You can do this.

– What was the first can, the first time you said yes and got a bit of momentum?

– More importantly, what opportunity is staring you in the face right now that you’re hesitant about?

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.