Everyone has pet peeves, those irritating little things that bug us so much, but we don’t exactly know why. One of my biggest pet peeves is a person seeking advice then responding with something like, “oh, well I don’t think that will work” or “I’m not sure I can do that”. What I hear is “I can’t”, followed by a train of excuses, which also make me crazy.

This has bothered me for a long time, but I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started. I recognize  that whenever I hear someone saying or even implying “I can’t” or “that’s not possible” I have an automatic, physical, internal response that exists somewhere between anger and anxiety. For a long time I thought it was a control issue – I inherited many from my mother and have spent years dismantling them one by one – but, I realize now it’s not so much a control issue as a firmly held belief that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

As an independent graphic designer, I work with many different personality types, in many different environments, all with one common thread – there is work to be done, regardless of conflicts or hurdles.

Last year I interviewed for a temporary assignment with a newspaper. Their designer was taking maternity leave and they needed someone to cover her position for 3-4 months. “No problem”, I thought to myself after they explained the job requirements. The caveat; there was only a very short time to train me (about 3 hours) before the young woman went on leave. Turns out they had already trained another young woman for the position, but she had decided at the last minute that she didn’t want the job, which left them in a bit of a bind. “No problem”, I thought to myself. I worked on the first issue with the already trained temp. I asked a lot of questions, got up to speed on what I felt were the most important aspects of the job, and got comfortable working with the staff. I felt pretty confident that I could hold my own on the second issue which I would be doing alone. “No problem”, I thought to myself.

The second issue was a challenge, to say the least. In getting up to speed on the “big picture” requirements, many of the minute, but important details had been over looked during my training. Add to that a barrage of other seemingly inconsequential setbacks that stacked up tall and fast. However, even on the days when I was really on the edge of complete meltdown, I took things one item at a time, began keeping endless lists of phone calls and items to check-off in order to ensure I didn’t miss anything, and I resigned myself to working as many hours as it was going to take to get the job done and get it done right.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of ‘mistake’ in the work environment – there are small mistakes and there are monumental f**k-ups. Small mistakes might irritate the boss, but are easily corrected and mostly non-problematic. Monumental f**k-ups cost companies their clients and/or profits, and can cost employees their jobs. My goal was to complete the job requirements they had hired me to complete without any mistakes at all, but I made a conscious decision to only make mistakes of the small variety and to avoid monumental f**k-ups at all costs.

Upon completing the newspaper assignment, the boss told me he thought I had done an exceptional job and barring a few small mistakes, he was impressed that I learned such an enormous job in such a short time. He also mentioned that in my interview, he felt I had come across as “over-confident” which initially made him skeptical about my ability to do the job, but that ultimately I had gone above and beyond in proving myself and functioning with grace under pressure and stress. His skepticism seemed to have turned into appreciation, or maybe just a huge sigh of relief, I’m not sure which.

Regardless, I took it as a complement, but I also spent some time examining my “over-confidence” and I came  to some very interesting conclusions. First, I was grateful that in his use of the term, he presented me with the word I had been looking for to describe this behavior I knew I exhibited, but could not articulate. Secondly, now that I have a word to describe the behavior, I also have a better understanding of the behavior, and of why I come across as overconfident. I don’t believe in “can’t” and I’m tenacious in my approach to almost everything. If I really don’t think I can do something, or if I don’t want to, I will come right out and say so, but if I say I can, or will do something, I’ll do it come hell or high water. I don’t mind a challenge, and “I can’t”, for me, just feels like a total cop out… because I know I probably can. ✻