There are many to prophesy failure.

October 12th, 2012


It’s true that much of what I learned about Christopher Columbus in grade school was untrue: he didn’t prove that the earth was round, and he didn’t discover America. But today I give an unofficial nod to good old, never-give-up Chris, because before federal holidays were moved to the nearest Monday, Columbus Day was observed today.

Columbus was obsessed with finding a western route to the Far East. With desire, focus and persistence, he refused to accept the naysayers’ ideas of impossibility. He persevered seven years of rejections before finding a sponsor for his expedition.

I came across this 1917 poem by English-born American poet Edgar Albert Guest recently that illustrates the Columbus approach to discovery.

It Couldn’t Be Done, by Edgar A. Guest

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 to sing as you tackle the thing

            That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Image courtesy of Gregory Szarkiewicz at


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