The Word “Can’t” Wasn’t in His Vocabulary

Ten years ago, I met someone whose life story would make a TV soap opera seem tame. Her name is Carol Pierce. She lived in a community bordering New Orleans, Louisiana.

Carol’s adult life has been full of challenges. She endured an abusive marriage, eventually divorcing to protect herself and her children. Carol started sharing her story with others, through articles and books, numerous radio appearances, speeches, seminars, and coaching.

Just as she began to enjoy a stable family and business life, hurricane Katrina struck its deadly blow. Along with tens of thousands of other displaced storm victims, she relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Throughout the decade I have known her, Carol has remained upbeat, hopeful, and buoyant. The photo on the right shows Carol in 1971, dressed in academic garb hours before she received her Masters in Education degree.

Note that Carol’s father, Clarence Pierce, is sitting in a wheelchair. Now, as Paul Harvey says frequently, here’s “the rest of the story.”

I asked Carol how she had endured so much discouragement and disappointment. She answered:

“I’ve never considered my actions as ‘true grit.’  Instead, I’ve always viewed them the same way my daddy did when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy the year before I began school and his doctors told him he could give up right then and there the idea of ever being able to walk again or earn a living to take care of me, my mom, and himself.” But Clarence refused to be defeated by their diagnosis. Those Charity Hospital doctors were looking at charts and reports. They didn’t take Clarence’s spirit  into account.

Clarence Pierce wouldn’t allow the word “can’t” to enter his vocabulary.
He opened a small vendor’s stand by the bayou, selling fruits and vegetables.

Carol explained: “My dad used his creative mind and his entrepreneurial genius to do what he had to do to make the seemingly impossible possible, employing young boys in the neighborhood to do the physical tasks his body would no longer allow him to do.  Every one of those young boys has become a success in his own profession, regardless of the profession, because of the work ethic and the grounded values my dad modeled and taught them.”

“My dad’s secret…he simply refused to let naysayers or any obstacle get in the way of what he really wanted and knew he had to do to make what he really wanted reality. . . to earn a decent living so he could support the three of us in an honorable fashion, not being dependent on hand-outs for us to survive.”

When Clarence Pierce died at 69 in 1990, he had outlived predictions not by years, but–as his pulmonologist said–by decades. From her father’s example, Carol drew this valuable lesson for life:

“Those who are positive, optimistic, and determined to bear their own share of responsibility always survive, regardless of the problems which try to get in the way.”

As we approach 2009, many of us confront personal and professional crises. Some seem insurmountable. Clarence Pierce showed us how to succeed. To begin with, omit the word can’t from your vocabulary.

To learn more about Carol Pierce, visit her Web site:

I suggest that you bring Carol to your organization. Her story will inspire and challenge everyone who hears her.

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