A few months back I was hired to present a motivational speech at a high school outside of Chicago. After my program, an assistant principal asked for my help.
“Scott, we have a paraplegic student who always says he wants to play football someday. After your speech, he came to us and said, ‘You see? Maybe I can do it.’ We’re worried now that he has unreasonable expectations for himself. Would you mind talking to him to help him be more realistic?”
In other words, she asked me to tell him that my presentation didn’t apply to him.
With the best of intentions, many people will smash the dreams of others in the name of reality. If they can stop the person from unachievable ambition, they’ll spare them the pain of failure. Too often, this is done by parents and people who really care about those they’re discouraging. I take issue with this.
Who knows what’s realistic? The path to success is lined with naysayers and doubters and people who’ve said it can’t be done. Too many times these people have been proven wrong. Here are some famous examples:
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,”
– Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,”
– Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
– Admiral William Leahy , US Atomic Bomb Project
“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.”
– Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
– Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
As I write this during the 2012 summer Olympics, South African double-amputee Oscar Pistorius has just qualified to run in the 4 x 400 meter relay finals in London. Born without fibulas, both of his legs were amputated at the knee when he was a baby. This is a guy who was audacious to aspire to walk, let alone run in the Olympics. It’s just impossible for a guy without legs (who can’t wear Nikes) to run in the Olympics. Yet, there he is.
Too many people claim to be experts in reality, and none of them are helpful. But it seems no matter how many times someone achieves the unachievable, there’s still always someone there to tell us it can’t be done. Ultimately they’re the ones doing the most disabling.
I thought about the assistant principal’s request and politely refused. I don’t make it my business to tell people what they can’t do. Life is the best teacher of reality. Perhaps dreams are life’s way of providing clarity.