Home » Archive » “do only what you only can do”

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

It was hot. Having Chernobyl just a few hours away didn’t help.

I was lying on my back, slung between two seats in the bottom of the row boat. My self-appointed advisor sat sweating in the bow. His fat white stomach glistened in the heat of the Ukrainian afternoon.

While we drifted along the river, the missionary earnestly jabbered about his work in the country. It was getting uncomfortable.

Eventually, for lack of distraction, I started making internal wagers betting on which two beads of sweat would first jump together on the man’s expansive, sweaty chest. His words droned along, joining the monotonic voice of the city.

Finally and suddenly he stopped talking. Without ceremony he jerked backward, flipping into the river. It was a slick move for such a large man, but it left the boat rocking wildly. I was still scrambling for balance when his happy face popped out of the water.

“What do you want to do?” He squirted water from his mouth in a graceful arc.

“When?” I didn’t know what he was asking about.

“With your life.”

“Oh, I’m thinking of being a nurse.” I’d just finished my first year of university and was leaning toward nursing. I knew there was a shortage of male nurses in Canada.

“Huh.” He grunted as he threw his arms over the side of the boat to hang by his armpits in the water. “Could you be a doctor?”

“I guess …” I was getting good grades and had nearly straight A’s in high-school.

“Do you think there are some people who could, if they tried their hardest and used everything they had and did their very best, only be a nurse?”


“And you could be a doctor?”

“I think so.”

“So,” he shifted his weight and nearly dumped me in the water, “Why not let them be nurses and you be a doctor.”

That great white, balding, sweaty man changed my life. I didn’t become a doctor, but I switched universities intending to be one. I stopped settling for what I could be and started searching for what the best in me could be. It’s a filter that’s defined every decision I’ve taken since then.

Last week I heard something else that feels like it will make waves. A board member was giving our investment company some advice, he invited us to “do only what you only can do.”

A gorgeous invitation.

Is it practical? Is it really an option? Or is the transformation required in order to accept the invitation actually the real point – what gets done is secondary.


Image posted by obosman.


Thanks for this. Seems; to be a common thread in many of my discussions over the past month.

Common? How? In what ways? On what topics?

“Do only what you only can do.”

I have reread this quotation several times (and will probably be rereading it for sometime to come).

I believe that most of us should do this every day. Every task and interaction presents us with an opportunity to either stay comfortable or really dig deep and go to where we excel. To “do only what you only can do” requires a spark of some kind. Does that spark arrive via a stranger’s blog, pushed to you by your teacher, resonsate from experience, or does it simply exist within each moment? Hard to see that spark while staring passively at life’s flow.

As I type and think, I notice the pear tree outside in the rain. Just a small spark was required last month to quickly bud, flower and bring forth the now wet leaves. The pear tree had only to see the spark from the longer days and accept its invitation for spring. Shading our back patio from the soon summer sun is what only our pear can do.

Thanks David. If you haven’t read it yet, the post that follows this one follows a similar line to the one you’ve described.

Particularly worthwhile is Chris Corrigan’s response.

As both you and Chris suggest, this is probably more about discipline than simply flicking on some switch. Probably more about intentionally opening to these ways of being rather than being suddenly awakened.

What do you do that only you can do? What could you do?

Thanks for this post… I am about the age you were in this story. It really struck something in me. I hope that I can apply it as well to my life as you seem to have done for yours.

Thanks… .thanks a lot.