If you’re not doing the impossible… you should be!
Does the change you’re trying to make in the world seem impossible?
If not, you should aim a little higher.
An old pastor of mine once suggested that your vision should be so big that it would be impossible to complete without God.
Wherever your spiritual inclinations happen to land, I think that level of belief and ambition is one we should be aiming for.
In the process of trying to fundraise, seek grants, or introduce your project to strangers, it can be easy to pick up the habit of watering down your vision.
Suddenly your goal becomes to provide 15,000 meals instead of the bigger target of ending hunger in Los Angeles. Even an ambitious metric like starting 500,000 rural schools isn’t the same as saying that you want to make sure every child in the world has a chance to get an education.
There are times when it’s appropriate to be realistic and even conservative about what you think you’ll be able to do in a given time-frame. Budgeting is perhaps the most relevant example. But when it comes to the big picture, you need to keep your ambitions just one notch below impossible.
People don’t buy-in when your vision is easily attainable
Think about Pixar for a second. They might not be a nonprofit or social enterprise, but as storytellers, they also face the critical task of making people care. In just about every Pixar film, the main character’s ambition is often so lofty and unlikely, that it’s almost impossible.
A rat wants to be a Michelin chef. A trash compactor on a desolate planet wants to fall in love. An elderly guy wants to fly to Venezuela in the comfort of his own home using balloons.
It’s because of the loftiness of these goals- and the belief of these characters- that we as an audience buy into the story. We’re there for the ride.
If the characters’ ambitions were far more attainable, we wouldn’t be invested in the story at all. Think about it: how interesting is a story about a guy who wants to reply to 15 emails before lunch?
In fact, the only way you make a story like that interesting is if you throw a ridiculous amount of obstacles in between the character and the mundane goal that it then feels impossible. See Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for a couple of examples.
This dynamic doesn’t just apply to movies. If you lead an organization with an attainable, unchallenging vision, people’s interest will be lukewarm. If you raise the stakes, you’ll likely get more naysayers, but you’ll also find a good amount of people wanting to jump in and join.
Your belief in the almost-impossible is contagious
When people see somebody passionately pursuing a nearly impossible ambition, they get curious. They start paying attention. Then it happens. You get the first follower. Then a second. You find a few people who agree with you- your dream isn’t that impossible and there’s a way to get there. Then the crowd starts to form.
As more and more people believe in the impossible, it serves as a self fulfilling prophecy. The impossible becomes possible. This is the trajectory of every great movement, from suffrage to Civil Rights to LGBT+ equality.
The phrase “it always seems impossible until it’s done” famously belongs to Nelson Mandela, and he seems like the right person to have said it. During his early years, the idea of a post-apartheid South Africa would’ve seemed absolutely impossible. Many in the late 80’s and early 90’s thought a Civil War was inevitable.
Don’t shy away from expressing high hopes and visions that seem nearly impossible. You need to be bold in painting mental images of a better future that others can buy into.
When you do, you’ll see beautiful things happen. You’ll discover that you aren’t the only person with that same dream and that it isn’t so impossible.