“I Think I Can…I Think I Can”: The Creative Spirit

When I was small, I loved to ride trains. By the time I was 13, The “Main Line local” was whisking me away from the beautiful Philadelphia suburb I arrogantly proclaimed “boring”. It brought me to Center City Philadelphia, where I could walk interesting sidewalks. My good friend transported me to a city that let me feel more like the self I wanted to be.  


But my favorite train lived on my bookshelf.  It had a drawing that is etched in my heart. The book cover picture that greeted me was a smiling little blue engine with a chimney that puffed clouds of mild grey smoke.  A waving clown in a green polka dotted  suit engineered the train from his perch on its top. In back of the brave and stalwart engine were cars chock full of toys and food that needed to go from one side of a mountain to the other to bring happiness and sustenance to unnamed children in a distant village.  Oh how my heart ached with hope that the little engine could pull those toys to the children.  The little engine’s job seemed formidable to me, even as a young girl, because there were pounds of toys and the engine was small, old, and female. I especially loved that the little engine that could, was “a girl engine. “ The story told me that “SHE (the engine)” worried that the children on the other side of the mountain could have no fresh milk or vegetables or toys unless she tried to transport them to the children.  And so, SHE said to herself, “I think I can. I think I can.” Hitching herself to the wagon of toys and dolls, she pulled her precious cargo up the mountain, huffing and puffing with all her might. I especially loved the part where she delivered the toys and delicious fruits to the children.  I have always remembered that the children thought they heard her say with confidence, as she made her way back over the mountain,“I thought I could. I thought I could.” 


Some time ago I brought out my daughter’s original 1954 version of this classic. I showed the enchanting cover picture to my granddaughter as we said hello to my old friend, the little blue engine that could. She was really impressed by the phrase, “I think I can.”  It had short words that were easy for her to say. To bring the concept home to her, we pretended we were little blue engines.  Together we huffed and we puffed up some imaginary hill in my living room as we chanted “I think I can. I think I can.” Later that day, as we were on one of our adventures this chipper toddler looked afraid as she was greeted by an unexpected challenge in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.  She got that tiny heart-grabber of a voice and said “Grammy, I ‘fraid.”  


“Let’s be little blue engines, just like we were in my house this morning.”  Quick as a wink, she joined me as we chanted resolutely, “I think I can. I think I can.” Convincing herself to overcome her own self doubt and use her creativity to master the new task, she pushed through her hesitation. Her blue eyes sparkled with her new won confidence and, in that moment, I watched a small child teach herself  to trust her creative spirit. Although smiled at the battle won, I know that, for this or any child to gain confidence, she needs to internalize her learning about the little blue engine that could. Luckily, we have years to encourage her creative spirit through moments just like this one.


Psychologists inform us that four key factors need to be operative if we are to live creatively:

1.     Faith: You have to be ale to count on your ability to do new things well.

2.     Silence self doubt. You need to quiet that harsh judgmental voice inside 

3.     Keep a close eye on small details

4.     Chutzpah: You need to ask pointed questions and require answers.


In 2015, as you take on an unwelcome challenge at work, get back on the treadmill after eight weeks of absence, or fight the frustration of installing the new items into your life, keep in mind the classic lesson of the little blue engine that could.   

To read:  The Little Engine That Couldby Watty Piper. A Platt and Munk Classic. 1954. New York. And , for the more ambitious reader,  The Creative Spirit.  D. Goleman, P. Kaufman, and  M. Ray. Penguin, 1993 

subtitle: The elegance of the classic story of the little engine that could provide easy illustration of four key factors you need for happiness and creativity in 2015

summary: Dr Coche remembers her fondness for  “the little blue engine that could” help her learn to overcome adversity. She shares the lesson of this tale with both her granddaughter and you, the reader, to help you remember four keys to creative living in 2015




Norris Clark