“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” – G. M. Trevelyan
This past week I had the pleasure of visiting the site of a week-long leadership camp being conducted for a select group of college students from a local university. The purpose of the camp was to immerse the students in principles of leadership. The desired outcome of the program is two-fold:
1 – To produce student leaders who lead with integrity and,
2 – To produce student leaders who have a healthy disregard for the impossible.
I was invited to view the vision posters that each student had crafted during the week and hung on the wall in the auditorium of the complex. The vision posters had drawings and explanations of how each student would solve such social issues as poverty, hunger, crime and illiteracy.
I walked around the room reading the vision statements, along with others who were there visiting, and was struck by how the “healthy disregard for the impossible” was evident in the posters.
As we completed the circuit around the room, we visitors began to gather around and talk about what we had just read. We noted how the students have not lived and worked “out in the world” and have not yet been exposed to the “limitations” that we often place on ourselves. We marveled at how refreshing it was to read vision statements that were not limited by the walls that we tend to erect around our expectations, ideas and visions as we get older.
What do we mean by “a healthy disregard for the impossible”? Isn’t the impossible, well, impossible?
Yes, in the absolute sense it is; however, simply because we believe something is impossible does not mean that it is impossible. The fact is, many times, and it seems to occur more often as we get older, we put limits on the “possible” simply because of our failure to imagine the possibilities. If we would have a healthy disregard for the impossible and simply work on those things that we one time categorized as impossible, we would be amazed at what we could accomplish.
Larry Paige and Sergey Brin were encouraged by their Stanford professors to pursue their dissertation theme of exploring the mathematical properties of the World Wide Web. They approached it with a healthy disregard for the impossible and as a result, we now have Google – and its use is so widespread that the word Google is now a verb. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t mention “Googling” something. But Paige and Brin didn’t sit back and bask in their glory – they have continually pushed the limits of what was thought possible. When they floated the idea of Google Translate to their programmers, their developers at first said it was impossible and would never measure up to a human translator. But Paige and Brin insisted – and the result is that today, 64 languages can be translated into one another instantly – and for free!
Many times young people are disparaged because of their youth and naiveté. One of my best friends sometimes quotes his grandfather who would say, probably when my friend was a teenager and his grandfather was exasperated with him, “Youth is wasted on the young!” While there may be times when we become exasperated with the young, let us be careful that we don’t kill their spirit and dampen their enthusiasm. Great things can be accomplished when we disregard the impossible.
If you’ve lived very long, you have heard, or even witnessed, something that “experts” said was impossible. Things like the US Hockey Team defeating Russia in the 1980 Olympics or Erik Weihenmayer, blind since he was 13, scaling the summit of Mt.Everest when he was 33 years of age. Disregarding the impossible has been necessary since long before Orville and Wilbur Wright proved the critics wrong by constructing and flying the first successful airplane.
Thank goodness for those who have had a healthy disregard for the impossible! Young people, don’t ever lose that. And hopefully, us old folks will climb out of our box and imitate you more.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela