My Turn: The "Yes I Can" Moment

When the best voice to hear is your own.

By Rick Silva,CC

If I had only one piece of advice to offer the world, it would be this: Don’t let other people tell you what you’re capable of. Don’t let other people tell you what you can and can’t do.

Ten years ago, while I was working as a database developer, a new programming language called Java was introduced. With all the buzz in the industry about Java, I was excited to learn it.

Sun Microsystems offered an exam, and if you passed, you would become a “Sun Certified Java Programmer.” I told a co-worker that I was seriously considering becoming certified in Java.

My supervisor, Kevin, heard of my plans and took me aside. He said, “Be realistic. You’re just a database developer. You’re never going to be able to pass that exam. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to learn Java? Do you have any idea how hard it is to pass that exam? You’d be wasting your time.”

I believed him because he was a senior manager at a prestigious company; he had a lot of experience and he knew the industry. But mostly, I believed him because he spoke with such authority. He really sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and he persuaded me to give up my goal.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, replaying the day’s events in my head. The more I thought about what Kevin had said, the more I grew annoyed. I thought, Kevin never took that exam! He doesn’t have that certification. How could he know how hard the exam is? How could he possibly know that I wouldn’t be able to pass?

I promised myself that I was going to get that certification and nobody was going to stop me. I spent the next six months with my nose in a Java book. I passed the exam and became a Sun Certified Java Programmer.

If you let other people tell you what you can and can’t do, they will define you. People will try to put you in a box. Don’t let them do it. Human beings have almost unlimited potential...and that includes you.

I know that earning a certification in Java isn’t the biggest achievement of all time. Every day people achieve bigger and more important goals. But it was important to me. And if I had listened to Kevin, I would have stopped before I even began. 

                    “Human beings have almost unlimited potential...
                    and that includes you

How many times have men and women heard comments along the lines of, “You can’t become a firefighter – you’re a woman.” Or, “You want to become a nurse? But that’s a woman’s job.” Never let another person define you that way. The interesting thing about statements like that is that if you believe them, they become true. You don’t need anybody’s approval to pursue your goals.

Last year I served as Vice President Membership for my local Toastmasters club. People who were considering joining Toastmasters in my area would contact me, usually by e-mail, to ask questions about the club. I sent answers and offered to help with any other questions.

After a while, I noticed a pattern to our correspondence. The first contact was always about logistics: “Where do you meet?” or “What time do you meet?” or possibly, “What are the directions?” But the second e-mail was always deeper – usually about how difficult public speaking had been for them. By this time, they were starting to get cold feet.

I learned to read between the lines of that second e-mail. They really were asking, “Am I crazy for thinking that I would be able to speak in public? Can I really do this?”

My answer was always, “Yes, you can do this! Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Don’t allow anybody to put you in that box and tell you that you aren’t worthy, or it’s too hard. If you do, you’ll never make it.”

One of the most beautiful things about Toastmasters is that moment when you realize that you can. It is the moment when you discover that the people who said you couldn’t were wrong. It is a moment that transcends public speaking. It is a moment that you carry with you throughout your life. 

Rick Silva, CC, is a member of Lakesiders Toastmasters in Wakefield, Massachusetts, and a Sun Certified Java Programmer. Reach him at