When they say it can’t be done…and you prove them wrong: how to do the impossible.
“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it” Chinese proverb A few weeks ago, a friend who works in global health policy mentioned that she’d taken the plunge and applied for her dream job. Needless to say, I was very excited about this. Her research and policy advocacy at national and international level focus on creating global systems that enhance humanity rather than prioritising profits to the detriment of people’s health. What struck me was that one of her mentors had been a little less encouraging than expected when she announced her intention to apply for the dream job. The mentors’ view was that it was a job for more senior and accomplished professor level academics and that she shouldn’t be disappointed if she didn’t get it. This pushed a hot button for me for various reasons captured in a phrase I once heard from a corporate leader: “men apply for jobs two years early and women apply two years late”. But the sociodemographics are not what I’ll dive into here. You see, I’ve heard this said too often before. I’ve lost count of the times when I shared an aspiration and was told essentially that: it can’t be done. I’m not talking about risking your life to save children in a war zone or trekking the Sahara in disputed territory (although I’ve done both). I’m talking about pursuing a path that calls to you. Going for a career, job or life that you really want. Whether it was applying to Cambridge, getting funding for my “unusual” research project, changing pay rules to get paid properly, switching careers, the majority of jobs I’ve applied for…, more than one eyebrow has been raised at my enthusiasm and faith. Something I’ve learned is that it’s one thing for people to tell you “it can’t be done”, it’s another, dangerously fatal event for your happiness, to start believing the voice in your head saying it. “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE UNTIL IT’S DONE” (Nelson Mandela) Did people nod in hearty agreement when the first person mentioned the idea of flying, going to the moon or abolishing slavery and apartheid? Very unlikely. That’s not the natural history of a dream. The natural history of a brilliant, creative, liberating idea in the social world is often to be rejected at first. That’s because most minds won’t comprehend it. It’s outside the norm by definition. So “normal minds” won’t have time or space for it. If the idea lands in one of these minds, it will be in a hostile environment and most likely die. So if you’re the recipient of an unusual idea, consider yourself the guardian of a sacred spark. Whether it’s a vision for the world, others or for your own life, your task is to nurture your dream-idea like a tiny seed in need of good soil, sunshine and care. Sure you’ll have to wrestle with your own resistance - the forces within you that want to squash the seed and destroy it so you can stay in your comfort zone. But the good news is that the seed is resilient. It will lie there in the damp, dark recesses of your mind waiting for you to turn towards it like the sun, so it can crack open and sprout. Algeria’s war of liberation took several violent years. It took me eleven attempts to get my second dream job. BIRTHING THE IMPOSSIBLE Do you have a dream-idea for more work-life balance; an organisational environment with less competition and more collaboration; doing work you love and living a good life?...Is it really impossible? Or did the idea come to you for a reason? My friend is a pretty seasoned mover and shaker and she’s intuitive about how to dance with the world. Well timed, swift action and connecting with people who support you means that the slightest touch can unfold great opportunities. No struggle needed. When she felt it was time to find the next job. She wrote down three things she wanted in her dream job: the type of job, the location and the salary. When she looked at the list, it seemed impossible. But that’s the point: it’s impossible until it’s done! She didn’t give up. She went about doing what felt intuitively right, connecting with people who support her and presenting herself with quiet confidence. Two weeks later the perfect job shows up – meeting all of her impossible criteria. Six weeks later, the job was offered to her and she accepted. I’ll never forget the joyful moment she got a call saying that she’d was invited back for a second round. Moments before, we were musing over how this eminent organisation in a league of impact with the Gates Foundation would be very lucky to have her. It’s not that it always happens that fast but calm certainty - faith - will go a long way to carry you through the process and take all the right actions. Faith is a quality that we’re not encouraged to talk about and yet it’s essential to birthing dreams. It’s the antidote to doubt. And it really is a birthing process that requires patience, strength and care. It’s more than self-esteem and positive psychology. It’s the magic ingredient for birthing the impossible. (See here for a past Wise Wednesdays on the place of secular faith in our modern careers. Or Watch the new video below. It’s the first in a while so feeling a little rusty!) BUT WHAT DO I DO NOW?... The intellectual mind isn’t good at nurturing seeds. It’s good at mechanising and mass-producing through logic and systems. Nurturing and tending to an dream-idea requires a connection with the greater context of our environment and embracing a different kind of process. It requires patience, attention, love – qualities that are beyond the reach of the intellect. The impatient intellect clamours incessantly for answers…But the frustration over answers should never cut you off from the inspiration provided by your dream-idea. Imagined answers are worth much less than a dream tended to properly and acted on skilfully. Besides, others will be less able to help you with your dream-idea if you’re obsessed with answers… After all, did Martin Luther King catapult the civil rights movement and change the world by saying “I have the answer!”?... No, he said: “I have a dream!” Until next week, Amina
Announcement : It’s today! The “What to do when you don’t know what to do” 60 minute webinar (monthly webinar series). We’ll explore the question and you can see how other people are coached through it. There’ll be time for questions and discussion around:
What “I don’t know what to do” really means and the real reason for “stuckness”
The easiest way back to clarity
3 things that can prevent this from happening again
See you there!