“It Couldn’t Be Done”

BLOG #16, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
“IT COULDN’T BE DONE”
April 22, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated by stories having to do with this abstraction we call “success.” Just what is it that separates the successes from the failures in life? Thousands of books promising success to those who will buy and read them vie for our attention on bookstore shelves. And success remains one of the most turned-to categories in quotation books.

Each issue of Success magazine is redolent with articles, interviews, and bios geared to readers who are searching for success in their lives.

But is it possible that readers can get so inundated by torrents of success-related hype that they miss the great simple truths that, if internalized, could make all the difference in the world? The sober reality is that all the advice in the world won’t work if the advisee doesn’t.

I’ve long been intrigued by studies that confirm one reality in America today: four-point straight A students usually end up working for B-/C+ students. The former all-too-often being all theory and the latter being persistent pluggers who doggedly slog through obstruction after obstruction en route to eventual success. In reality, grade-point average is a lousy indicator of life-success.

Edward A. Guest (1881 – 1959), though born in England, achieved his fame in America. In 1899, Guest, exchange editor of the Detroit Free Press, began writing daily columns, the chief feature being homespun family-friendly poetry. By 1916, these poems were being syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. Thanks to daily and weekly syndication, weekly radio programs, royalties on books and greeting cards, movie rights, Guest became the highest paid poet in America. His work dominated the first half of the twentieth century.

Elocutionists such as my beloved mother memorized and performed Guest’s most popular poems before audiences large and small across the nation.

One of his most popular, and most widely anthologized poems, was this one – still alive a hundred years later (my mother performed it often):

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Included in Guest’s book, The Path to Home (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Company, 1919). Original text owned by Joe Wheeler.

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