I have always thought of myself as a fairly conventional and ordinary person. OK, probably not entirely ‘ordinary’ and even not entirely ‘conventional’ – there has been too much evidence to the contrary over the years – but I have never thought of myself as someone who achieves ‘impossible’ feats.
Then again, most of our friends believed that it is not possible to pay off £100,000 ($157,000) worth of debt in three years; even our financial advisor laughed when I mentioned to him what we have set out to achieve – he thought I am joking (well, you all know me) and in response mentioned something about winning the lottery. Between you and me, the lottery was not even in it; and winning the lottery is not impossible either – it is just so not worth pursuing this possibility.
Another impossible feat was me running a marathon. Eight years ago, anybody who had known me for any length of time would have told you that my favourite sport was sitting in coffee bars. You should have seen my closest friend’s face when I told him that I’ve started running.
‘You? Running.’ – he exclaimed – ‘I want to see what you look like after running 10K.’.
I loved him dearly; that is why after my next 10K race I took a picture a sent it to him. It was a muddy race and I had finished in 53 minutes; so not a pretty sight but he did want to see. I ran marathons and now I want to run an ultra-marathon.
Believe it or not, this article is not actually all about me doing ‘impossible’ things. But suddenly realising that I do have a bit of a history with ‘impossible’ made me think:
What stands between us – each and every one of us – and extraordinary possibilities?
In my opinion there are three factors that are in the way: a) we refuse to acknowledge the possibility; b) we don’t act on it; and c) we decide what to go for because of who we are.
There are many things that were considered ‘impossible’ until someone went and did them. It was impossible to fly, to get to the US in six hours, to talk to people at a distance and to have light during the night. It was considered impossible to run a mile in four minutes (and under) and recently I saw a clip of a gymnast entitled ‘Please, someone tell this girl that this is impossible’.
You know what the first difference between the people who do these impossible feats and the ones who don’t is that the former have somehow allowed the possibility. Once the possibility of achieving something is acknowledged the rest is a technicality of working out how to do it.
Acting on possibilities
The second difference is that the people who defy the impossible act. Roger Bannister (the guy who run a four minute mile first in 1954) didn’t simply hang about thinking: ‘Well, it is possible but let’s have another sandwich.’ No, he trained with the focus of an addict. So did the gymnast, btw.
Most people, however, don’t act. In fact, the other day I was on the bus (yep, trying to reduce my carbon footprint) and overheard this young girl, probably a student, talking on the phone. What she was saying is:
“No, I haven’t phoned them. Why would I do that? So that I hear…”
How do you know what you will hear if you haven’t phoned? Go figure!
A variation on this refusal to act is
“Oh, this is never going to work!”
Now, there is nothing wrong with saying that something doesn’t work but timing is everything: you can’t say this before you have even tried.
Decide for who you want to be, not who you are
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to decide which one of two very different career paths to take. After setting out the two choices he said:
‘But choosing [insert a career path of your choice] is tricky. I am not sure that I am [insert the same].’
Now, this was very interesting. This friend of mine is clever, able, competent and adventurous. About five years ago, he moved to the UK from another country; and he moved his family. During the move (and shortly after) their lives were in turmoil: his children went to school and didn’t speak a word of English; his wife had no job; they had to find a house, make a life and meet new friends. They managed all of that! Why? Because my friend bravely took a path in his life that he didn’t know well; he was not thinking that ‘…he isn’t […]’.
And here is the problem:
Five years ago my friend didn’t choose for who he is; he made a decision about who he wants to be.
If we wish make life changing decisions we ought to:
- Have an idea of what we want to be;
- Decide not on the basis of what we are but what we want to be;
- Work out the conditions that will get us there;
- Create the conditions that will get us there.
This is how ‘impossible is nothing’ – because ‘impossible’ is usually not something we have tried and failed to achieve; it is the thing that we never allowed ourselves to see as a possibility.
Have you achieved any impossible feats and how?