How Far Should You Chase The "Impossible" Dream?
When is chasing the impossible dream foolhardy vs. visionary?
Posted July 15, 2008
We all like to believe in the "impossible." To see when people beat the odds. But how do you choose the dreams to chase? When is chasing the "impossible dream" foolhardy, and when is it visionary? When should you be realistic versus idealistic?
In Dr. Travis Bradberry's book "The Personality Code", he writes that it's not your personality that is the barometer of success, but your awareness of your personality type that is the true measure. He writes that knowing your individual strengths and weaknesses allows you to adjust to them, to mitigate your weakness and emphasize your strengths. That you can then learn to avoid the things that you're not suited for. I find myself wondering — where does "awareness" end, and defeatist thinking begin?
What does this mean for someone with a condition such as Asperger's, which affects personality? Is it better to "face facts" and decide that there are certain things that you will never be able to do because of the difficulties that Asperger's creates, or should you cling to the ideal that "anything is possible if you put your mind to it?"
I recently watched a videotaped talk with noted animal scientist and autism speaker Temple Grandin, regarding careers for people with autism. In it, she emphasized repeatedly that people with autism or Asperger's should never allow themselves to be promoted into a management role, due to the social demands. I get why she says this, and I think that the thought is valid, but then I think...Never? Can we really make such a sweeping statement? We are constantly learning new things about the human brain. Decades ago, it was believed that an adult brain was static, and did not change. That brain cells, if lost, would never be regained. Now we learn that is not the case — that the brain is plastic.
How can we know, for certain, what autistic people can learn, or how a brain could possibly rewire itself? On the other hand, any person on the autistic spectrum can testify to the pain of constantly trying to fit into a "normal" social mold. In John Elder Robison's account Look Me In The Eye, he recounts his experiences in the Corporate world. He describes his time in management as "being surrounded by mediocrity," as he just did not have the skillset to excel in such a position. Many, maybe even most people on the spectrum struggle with these types of positions - but can we really categorically state that no person on the autistic spectrum could ever learn these skills? There are accounts of introverts who had success in the Corporate world, although rare (Not All Successful CEOs Are Extroverts - USA Today). And, John Elder Robison is now an entrepreneur. So how do you know?
The recent bestseller "The Secret" would have you believe that using the "Law of Attraction" anything that you can concieve can manifest. That any illness can be healed, any circumstance you don't like can be changed if you simply believe enough. These thoughts are echoed by some religious groups - that if you believe enough that God has the power to change your circumstances, he will will change those circumstances. Many secular teachers also teach similar beliefs, including the power of positive thinking.
There's no question that there are people who achieve incredible things, and they could not have done so if they had not believed those things possible. The four minute mile was deemed impossible, until Roger Bannister broke the record on May 6, 1954. Now it's considered standard. People scoffed at the idea of traveling to the moon, but we did it. They thought an aircraft would never break the sound barrier, until Chuck Yeager did it in 1947. The human race is constantly exceeding what "general wisdom" agrees is "possible". We constantly strive to exceed ourselves. So, how can we be sure that a dream is "impossible"?
No one epitomized the "impossible dream" more than Christopher Reeve. In fact, the title of his second book was "Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life." Until his death in 2004, he maintained he "impossible dream" of regaining function in his extremities, and in fact, walking once again. While he didn't reach that goal, he exceeded everyone's expectations, especially his doctors.
As quoted in the Baltimore Sun:
"Dr. John McDonald of Washington University in St. Louis, who designed the exercise program, said that, in the past year, Reeve could move his legs on a recumbent bicycle without help from machines.
'Chris was the worst case, he had no functional recovery for five years and his injury was as severe as it gets,' said McDonald, who spoke with Reeve a few weeks ago. 'He went on to recover sensation throughout his entire body, and after a few years he could move the muscles in his arms, legs and abdomen.
Any recovery would have been substantial,' McDonald said. 'But Chris achieved about 20 percent functional improvement, which is amazing.'"
Joni Eareckson Tada is also paralyzed from the neck down, but approaches her disability with a different point of view. Unlike what one might expect from an Evangelical Christian, she does not hold out hope for a miracle healing.
In a 2004 Larry King interview, she was asked if she felt a kinship with Christopher Reeve. She said, "Very much so." But when asked if she felt, like he did, that she would ever walk again, she replied:
"EARECKSON TADA: Well, I'm what they call chronically disabled.
EARECKSON TADA: I've been in this wheelchair for 37 years, my bones are so porous, you can't see it, but I've got a cast on this leg, I broke my leg about a month ago.
And my doctor said, you've got the bones of an 82-year-old, and that's pretty frightening."
Whether you share Ms. Tada's beliefs or not, there is no question that her life has been an inspiration. While she doesn't "chase the impossible dream" of ever walking again (except perhaps in the afterlife), she is an artist (she paints with her mouth, holding the brush between her teeth), disability advocate, author, radio personality and CEO. She was appointed by President Reagan to the National Council on Disability, which was instrumental in designing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her organization, Joni and Friends, provides support to people with disabilities at home and abroad. Their program, Wheels for the World, provides thousands of wheelchairs to needy people worldwide.
She has made the most of her situation. She says:
"But in the 34 years since it happened, I have discovered many good things that have come from my disability. I used to think happiness was a Friday night date, a size 12 dress, and a future with Ethan Allen furniture and 2.5 children. Today I know better. What matters is love: warm, deep, real, personal love with a neighbour, a husband, a sister, an aunt, a nurse or an attendant. It’s people who count."
So, once again, I wonder. Here you have two people, in similar circumstances, who adopted very different points of view toward their disabilities. One secular, one religious. One believing for healing, the other accepting the disability. Both advocate for other disabled people, and founded non-profit organizations to benefit others in similar situations. Both have served as an inspiration to people worldwide. So, which approach is better?
Do you hold out hope, chase the "impossible dream"? Or do you find victory in acceptance? When does hope transcend to foolhardiness, and when does acceptance become negativity? Do we even know with certainty what is "impossible"?
What do you think?