Keeping Possibility Alive in 2014
What an extraordinary site, to watch the networks flash through the New Year’s celebrations unfolding around the world. Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Moscow, Paris, London, and of course here in New York, fireworks lit the night to mark 2014’s grand entrance. The one night a year in which, worldwide, we’re focused on what’s possible.
It’s such a cool thing (and quite a relief) to see the airwaves flooded with hope, joy and optimism, if only for one day. Maybe it’s humankind’s greatest challenges, to keep that sense of possibility alive.
I remember a few years before my son Jeremy was born, when we were living in Seattle, my husband Tim and I would make the daily pass through the Safeway grocery store and, without fail, he would stop at the little carnival game, strategically placed by the exit, to try his luck. You’ve seen them before, those giant glass boxes filled with stuffed animals from China, with the big mechanical claw you maneuver to capture your prize? On the front it says “A game of skill”. Tim must have spent more than a $100.00 on that “game of skill” in Safeway.
One day, ironically right after the new year, Tim and I were heading out of Safeway when he predictably stopped at the machine and with mischievous grin on his face, he put his hand out in my direction (his way of asking his lovely wife for a quarter).
“Come on. Don’t be selfish.”
Giving me “the look” until I folded, I reluctantly handed over my two last quarters.
He put them in the machine, placed his hands on the lever, and eyed his target….a giant stuffed neon orange fish. I watched the master at work. As he positioned the claw, I said, “So have you ever won anything out of this machine before?”
Concentrating, he shook his head “no” while I continued, “Well do you think it’s even possible?”
…and just as I said the word “possible” – “…so do you think it’s even possible?” – he pushed the button, the claw closed around the orange fish’s head and up and out it flew.
So…the “Fish of Possibility” has been living with us for about 10 years now (Jeremy, of course, has adopted him as his own). And every time I find myself doubting if something is possible or not possible, I seek his council.
You know what I’m talking about. Those days when you think…”I can’t do this.”
“This is too hard.”
“Whatever made me think I could….”
“Is this even possible?”
And as silly as it seems, all it takes is for me to make eye contact with that neon orange fish and I know that the answer is “yes”.
Yes it’s possible.
Kierkegaard said “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”
As leaders, we’re trained to problem-solve and fix things. Our minds, in attempts to mitigate risk and avoid failure, get so focused on what could go wrong, that we can’t see the possibility on the other side. Pressured to make quick decisions, we force ourselves to decide what is possible and what is not possible.
We decide about opportunities (“…can’t afford to…” “…doesn’t make sense for us…”).
And maybe most dangerously, we decide about ourselves.
As I say often in the classroom, our talents are also our Achilles heel. While decisiveness and prudence may serve us well in many ways, these talents could very well be our greatest obstacles. For if we don’t have access to possibility, how can we innovate? How can we create? How can we strive to do better and be better?
And how do we continue to show up fully with the discomfort that possibility brings? The “not knowing for sure”?
How can we keep possibility alive for ourselves and others?
Perhaps our greatest challenge this year, as leaders, is to keep asking the question.