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I Think I Can, I Think I Can

Career advice from a classic children's book

by Heather Mundell  |  1762 views  |  4 comments  |        Rate this now! 

The other night my kids asked me to read The Little Engine That Could for their bedtime story.

I was a little surprised, because in our house this is a "baby" book that we haven't read in at least a year. I sighed, remembering how dull and repetitive it is to read. Then we began.

You remember how it goes: Happy little train with toys and candy for the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain breaks down. The clown spokesperson for the train flags down three engines for help, all of whom refuse for various reasons. Finally a little blue engine comes along and decides to give it a try. Success!

My kids loved it. And even though this 1930 story is old-fashioned and out-dated in some ways (one of the toys for the good little boys and girls is a jackknife, which you don't read about so much anymore in books for young children!), it's actually a timeless story about compassion, courage, tenacity, and optimism.

Compassion: The little blue engine stops quickly and listens to the clown with concern. The thought of helping the little boys and girls and seeing how sad the dolls are urges her to act courageously.

Courage: Even though the little blue engine isn't big, has only been used for switching trains in the yard, and has never been over the mountain, she decides to try to pull the train of toys. There's no reason for her or anyone else to believe she'll be successful.

Tenacity: She tugs, she pulls, she pulls, she tugs. It's slow, hard work.

Optimism: What does she say to herself as she begins this task? Not, "Oh, my God, this will never work," or "What if I fail?" Hint: See the title of this article.

At the end of the story, as she flies down the hill to the other side of the mountain to give the toys to the good little girls and boys, the little blue engine thinks to herself, "I thought I could," not "Well, that was a lucky break that will never happen to me again."

It's a simple story, chock-full of pearls of wisdom relevant to our lives today, so many of which we forget about or ignore to our detriment.

What if you, as a mom seeking your just-right job, went about your business as if you were the little blue engine?  What would feel different? What different results would you be getting?

About the Author

Heather Mundell is a mother of two daughters and life and career coach. Visit her online at and

Read more by Heather Mundell

4 comments so far...

  • I always think of the little engine that could whenever I think I can't make it through another stress-filled day. But I love the idea of using "I think I can" whenever we're contemplating a scary change. Except the mantra should be, "I KNOW I can"...

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Amy@UWM on 28th January 2008

  • Many of us stop ourselves from even thinking very hard about a change - like go to grad school, leave our job, go back to work, or quit our job - because it's scary and unknown, and we don't want to fail.

    There will always be reasons we can come up with why we can't do something, so why not spend at least a few minutes imagining that we can, and see where that leads us!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Heather Mundell on 26th January 2008

  • A Positive attitude can accomplish a lot. When I say "I think I can," I'm more likely to set reasonable and attainable goals.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Daisy on 26th January 2008

  • you are so sneaky, did you hear me asking this question in my head today? i think right now i am having a hard time pinning down what i want to do... once i do that i THINK I CAN do whatever i want :)

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kate on 26th January 2008