There’s a Difference Between “I Can’t” and “I Don’t Want To”

Joshua Choi
May 26, 2018 · 4 min read

High school was a time in my life where I learned a lot about values from the friends I grew up with. Neither were we the smartest, academically, nor were we the“model-minority.” We were all however, insanely stubborn in our ways and that helped developed our self-awareness because we’d fight for things instead of just giving in.

One of the most important lessons I learned from my friend, Alex, was the difference between saying I can’t and I don’t want to. Here’s the story:

We were in the car listening to music and deciding on whether we were all going to smoke more (weed). Everyone agreed, but I was hesitant. I told them that “I can’t” because I had a lot of homework to do (I really didn’t I was just lying out of my ass).

Now that I’m writing this, I’m starting to realize that similar situations reoccurred multiple times in my life. At first, I’d end up submitting my original position, but this was the pivotal moment where I’d end up always ascertaining the position I initially took.

Everyone tried to convince me to throw tens or even fives for another eighth but I resisted. Eventually, Alex got frustrated and said, “Yo stop saying you can’t! Just say you don’t want to if you don’t want to!” At that moment, I became silent due to the mini-epiphany that churned in the back of my head. Then, I responded back — “You’re right. I don’t want to.”

Your Time is Limited

That happened 5 years ago. In the pursuit of the game, relative to whatever domain you’re in, your time is limited. And dependent on the level of mastery you’re trying to achieve, your time should be allocated wisely to events that could yield the best results.

There’s a quote by Steve Jobs that goes like this:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

As a startup founder, I’ve seen many of my peers who are also entrepreneurs, voice the thoughts in their heads with little to no filter. I think this is because the voice in their heads is louder than the voice of others. In certain situations this could be detrimental, especially when the startup founder should be listening to their customers or users. But in most situations, it makes all the difference.

Say No… If You Don’t Want To

Great product development processes, usually forces developers, marketers, and entrepreneurs to position themselves in the best possible position to enable a “launchpad” for accelerated growth. We aggressively cut out the clutter and carefully choose what to focus on. Any other feature, operation, and plan are shot in the head if they’re not aligned with our plans for the next n-months of runway.

If you have a “grand vision” for your company, I’d recommend you ignore it. Because at the end of the day, especially if you’re building a digital product only 2 things matter:

  1. Revenue (Run Rate).
  2. Retention (LTV at least).

If your startup is executing on a viable business model, then you’d want to measure the former. It helps you see how likely you are to hit your forecasts, captures trends, picks up patterns, and dig up potential problems with your pricing strategy. The same principles apply for the latter if you’re not operating with a business model.

Sometimes your customers could say that they’d want something, and end up not using it at all when its delivered. It is the job of the startup founder to discern deliverables based on the collective metrics they’re aiming for.

Knowledge is Scattered; Experience Connects the Dots.

Usually, a difficult situation arises and we’ve got to make a decision that could potentially change our lives. If the situation is complicated, we tend to seek opinions, suggestions, and advice from others.

The issue with seeking advice from others is that we tend to go to the same people over and over again because they’d often convey the type of advice we want to hear, not the advice we need to hear. If we switch our approach to seeking and heeding constructive feedback, I think we’ve got to do that in such a way so that the answers we get are distinct, because the people we communicate with are on opposite spectrums of perspectives, ideas, and personalities.

If hypothetically, we choose to ignore the collective opinions of radically different types of people and decide to do what we think is right, the worst-case scenario is that the decision we make is irreversible. The best-case scenario is that the expected result actually happens.

Either way, the end result for both the worst and best-case scenarios is that we end up directly experiencing the affects of our decision, and we learn from them. So, the next time a difficult decision has to be made, we’d be able to mold together the different experiences we had and contextually optimize the best decision we can make.

“I Don’t Want To” is More Powerful

When you say “I can’t” it implies that you’re not physically, emotionally, or psychologically unable to do what you can’t do (of course excluding the given resources you have access to — but if you have a computer in 2018, you can do almost everything). If you say “I don’t want to” it ascertains that you’re not willing to put yourself in the given situation’s position.

So the next time you’ve got to make a decision and you want to allocate your time wisely, it’s better to respond with the latter instead of the former.

Joshua Choi

Written by

Whatever it takes. Founder, CEO @ Nanogram, Inc.

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