I can’t say I loved bedtime as a little girl, but I tolerated it because it always included a book or a story from my parents. I especially adored bedtime stories with my dad.
My favorite story from my dad was “The Pied Piper.” Perhaps it was my preferred tale because Dad’s Pied Piper was a jazz musician, as Dad had been in Big Bands in the 30s and 40s. Man, that Piper could swing!
But the book I always related to and requested repeatedly was “The Little Engine That Could.” Do you remember that one?
It’s striking to look back as an adult at these “children’s stories” and discern the lessons within them we were taught.
In the case of “The Little Engine That Could,” I learned the lessons of positive thinking and resilience.
You might remember that, in the story, a broken-down engine 🚂 asks a passing “Big Strong Engine” 🚆 and a “New Shiny Engine” 🚄 for help. It was trying to scale a steep mountain with its overloaded train of toys and gifts for little children on the other side of the mountain when it broke down. Quite impressed with their own self-importance, and not wishing to be seen associated with broken-down trains, those big and shiny engines kept responding to the pleas for help, “I can not, I can not...”
The broken-down engine is feeling bereft when along comes this Little Blue Engine. It was smaller and weaker than the other engines that had passed by earlier. But the broken-down engine asked if Little Blue Engine could help it scale the looming mountain. And that Little Blue Engine replied, “I think I can, I think I can...”
At 5-years old, that became my mantra. “I think I can, I think I can...” I loved the cadence as I said it over and over again. In retrospect, I wasn’t thinking about the story at the time so much as this feeling of empowerment it gave me.
“I think I can, I think I can...” has gotten me out of some tough fixes in my life, let me tell you! Whenever it felt as though I was facing insurmountable odds, from health challenges to extreme adversity as a mid-life Peace Corps Volunteer in the rugged Third World country Papua New Guinea, I’d hear that phrase in my mind. Still do!
Working with entrepreneurs for over a decade, I’ve long appreciated the grit they show in pursuing their dream business. It takes courage (notably NOT “fearlessness”) and determination to withstand the demands building and growing a business takes. And the inevitable “failures” — also known as lessons, as long as we learn from them — require Wonder Woman-like resilience to keep going.
Just like “The Little Engine That Could.”
P.S. Now, my work as a business advisor and coach to women entrepreneurs allows to include a corollary: “I think you can, I think YOU can!” You don't have to go it alone.
What books and stories from your childhood shaped you and inform how you appear in the world today?
What books and stories do you tell your children, and what do you hope they internalize from them?