When I was a kid, I thought I could do anything, as I’ve blogged about before. Become a professional jump roper, even if no such profession exists. Check. Win Star Search with my breakdancing crew, the Repeat Offenderz. Word. Build a functioning space ship from a variety of everyday items found in our garage. Just a matter of time. Such was my mania.
Our brilliant daughters are the same way. They hatch Plots and draw up Blueprints. They invent robot babysitters. They design buildings with wings that soar among the clouds. They expect the impossible and are genuinely shocked when someone tells them, “That’s not possible”, or, “You can’t do that.” I’ll admit, sometimes I am the culprit.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?” –Robert Browning
Thankfully, kids are resilient, and for as long as they can manage it, they are not deterred by the short-sightedness of reality or common sense. But society has a talent for stripping us of the Armor of youth; namely, Audacity. Young people are Audacious, they will not be denied. They are not afraid to fail because it has never occurred to them that they might. For example, a bunch of colorfully dressed kids with a boombox and a sheet of cardboard, inventing a new art form that, thirty years later, is still exerting its influence. To adults in 1982, it seemed like a fad. It was ridiculous. It was absurd. Now it is a legitimate form of dance. I like to think that in my own awkward yet enthusiastic way, the fifth grade version of me helped change the world a little bit.
Adults, as they join the workforce, and start families, and contribute to 401k’s and conform to generally accepted standards of adulthood, most often are decidedly not Audacious. We are encouraged to be rational, conservative, realistic. We are conditioned to be unobtrusive, fly under the radar, to not take risks, to hang in the corners with our hands in our pockets like teenagers at a middle school dance. Adults tend to be morbidly, disproportionately afraid of failure and ridicule, and this condition only worsens with age. Worse, we often discourage by word and example, the young who dare to dream Great and Audacious dreams.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” —Lewis Carroll
The irony is, those who have achieved great things knew the difficulties they would face, and embraced them with the optimism of a child. Orville Wright was a high school dropout and bicycle shop owner who, with his brother Wilbur changed the course of human history by defeating gravity and inventing the first successful airplane. The Wright brothers battled a variety of competitors, foreign and domestic, most with superior resources and educational pedigrees (the Smithsonian Institution, the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), led by Alexander Graham Bell). Even after Kitty Hawk and a slew of successful flights, the brothers fought in the papers and the courts to achieve the recognition and legitimacy that they had rightfully earned. But if they had stopped to think about the scope of their goal, how impossible it all seemed, they probably would have thrown in the damn towel.
ADHD digression/fun fact 1: I attended a middle school named after Wilbur. And I also attended a number of school dances, hands securely placed in two of the 28 zipper pockets in my flight pants, on the sidelines, wishing I could work up the nerve to impress the fine ladies with my fresh windmill transition into a funky freeze. I guess by this time I had already started to shed my Audacity.
Shiny object/fun fact 2: Neither Orville nor Wilbur ever married. So I guess even world-beaters have chinks in their Armor. I can just imagine Wilbur at a barn dance, wanting badly to ask a girl to do the Lindy Hop and take her to see the first flying machine in the history of mankind. I mean, he had the greatest pickup line ever, and couldn’t seal the deal.
In many ways, the early 20th Century was the Age of Audacity. The Heroes and Trailblazers that made their mark around the turn of the century were unbound by limits. The Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, Harry Houdini, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla, Jack Johnson, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many others trod the landscape of the Possible like children on a playground.
“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” —Miguel de Cervantes
Don’t be content to set modest goals. Wake up your sleeping Inner Child and loose him/her on an unsuspecting world. Be Audacious. Be ridiculous. Heroic Quests are notoriously difficult. Embrace the impossibility of the task at hand. And then go out and make a mockery of the limits that others put on you.