Every person you admire, living or dead, achieved their esteemed position through a series of decisions, readjustments, recalculations, restarts, and a fortuitous helping of what we call ‘being in the right place at the right time.’ Each one undertook a journey, but before the first measurable step was taken, they asked a question – what if . . . ?
On it’s face it is a simple question, but how incredibly profound it becomes when we actually give ourselves time and permission to reflect on the possibilities our imagination tosses into our stream of consciousness. All manners of possibilities can come crashing through the barriers that imprison them from our busy lives. The experience can be like walking down glistening isles of an unbounded superstore with limitless shelves of fascinating ideas and things. But there is a risk; without purpose we can easily become overwhelmed by high ideals on the one hand or frustrated by comparison to our meager state on the other.
People of accomplishment have achieved a certain discipline over their imagination. With a good understanding of their talents, resources, and strengths they better focus their imagination on chosen purposes. They intentionally navigate through the imaginary superstore to the department that best embodies who they are – the department where the things or ideas on the shelves hold intimate and fierce appeal for them, they are not easily obtained, and can be achieved only through careful planning, commitment, and able execution.
Each person we admire made a determined and deliberate choice in their lives to write their own story, rather than to let circumstances and events dictate it to them. They asked ‘what if . . .?,’ filled in the blank, and pursued it with relentless passion, overcoming obstacles, temptation to quit, and failures. Their life stories fascinate us, entertain us, and inspire us. So why don’t we follow them into the imaginary superstore where they found their answers to what if?
In March of last year in a Brief entitled “Your Future Called and it Could Use Your Attention” I searched for answers to why we don’t plan. Some were obvious and others less so. Among them were; ‘we are too busy,’ ‘we don’t believe,’ ‘we fear failure’ and ‘we don’t understand the importance.’ The great American philosopher Mark Twain gave just cause when he said “plan for the future because that is where [we are] going to spend the rest of [our] life.”
A great tragedy of the information age and modern media is that so much of the consumer portion has evolved to appeal to the weakest and basest characteristics of our human nature. A sixty second scan of 30 television channels any time of day reveals their low state of quality and value. The same can be said for bestseller book lists, news channels, talk radio, internet chat rooms, and our own conversations. Buffeted by so much bad news, criticism, pessimism, and filth it’s no wonder our imaginations for our ideals are being smothered. How much easier to criticize, worry, and complain than to ask what if . . . , better still what if I . . .?
Each of us has the same number of hours available as the people we aspire to emulate. The difference lies in choices made. A wise person once told me we do what we want to do. In essence if I want to watch TV more than I want to start my first book then, quite certainly, I will watch TV and my first book will remain securely out of reach on the top shelf of my imaginary supermarket. And another two hours that might have been spent climbing to reach that top shelf are forever gone.
Psychologists and sociologists tell us that very few people actually set goals and plan beyond their job requirements. Fewer still write them down and review them regularly. The number floated around most often is 3%. But whatever the actual number is, it is clearly a small percentage of the population.
If you have continued reading to this point, it may well be that you are part of the 3% or you aspire to join the 3% who ask ‘what-if;’ one who desires to live with purpose and to achieve greater things than might be achieved simply by reacting to circumstances. To you I say congratulations and welcome. There are no what-if’s too small or too grand. You are limited only by the questions you fail to ask.
What if . . .
- I leave my job to start the business I’ve always dreamed of?
- we find a way to travel more while we are young.
- we take a three-year sabbatical from our jobs to . . .?
- we add on to our home? What impact will that have on our other important goals?
- we start a fund to provide college scholarships for high school students who want to pursue . . .?
- we limit our estate for the kids to do good with the surplus while we are alive?
Instead of . . .
- I wish I had . . .
- Why didn’t we do this sooner?
- If we had only traveled before . . .
- How many lives could have been impacted if we had only . . . ?
We all fall prey to wishing we had done things differently or sooner. But the best of us realizes that every moment we waste away from our quest for top shelf dreams is irrevocably part of a past we can never redeem. We yearn to be more purposeful, more proactive, but the busy-ness of life chains us to the merely acceptable, the mediocre.
But there is good news. With energies redirected to intentionality, discipline, and passion, we can escape the mediocre and achieve our ideals, we can become our best. The challenge is to break free from the mighty lure of the status quo – we must dare to dream.
New Year’s has past, but why not ‘resolve’ to spend some time this weekend strolling through your imagination superstore, particularly the department that calls most clearly from the top shelves of what-if’s?
It is our great privilege to hear our clients’ what-if’s and to help them navigate the challenges in order to reach them. We would love to hear your discoveries and to share them with our readers (anonymously and with your permission of course). Maybe together we can do our part to raise the quality of conversation on the Information Highway.
Have a productive and purposeful weekend.