How to Accomplish the Impossible

Around the year 1492, Christopher Columbus proposed a sail around the world to find a more direct trade route to the East Indies. He wanted to sail west and end up on their eastern shores. This would fly in the face of the widely held belief at that time that the earth was flat. Surely, people told him this trip would be impossible. He did it anyway. And, landed on the shores of the Bahamas, making himself one of the most famous explorers in history.

In another story, the astronomer and devout catholic, Copernicus, formulated a theory in which the universe’s central point was not the earth, but the sun. A wildly outrageous claim at the time. After his death, a brave scientist named Galileo came out in strong support of Copernicus’ theory, and backed it up with some observations of his own. He was found guilty of heresy and confined to house arrest for the rest of his life. Turns out, however, he stuck to his guns and was right. In 1992, the catholic church finally followed suit and pardoned Galileo.

Now, I wonder if ancients ever looked at the stars and thought we could walk among them. Or, looked at the moon and thought we could stand on it and stare down on earth. Likely, they thought it was impossible. It couldn’t be done. But, with advances in science and technology, in 1969 we did just that. Not only did we put one man on the moon, but over the course of three years, we put twelve of them on our nearest spacial neighbor. The men stared down upon earth, right at about the place god would have sat while theoretically creating the cosmos and took what would be the most famous picture in the world:

Recently, a guy named Felix Baumgartner did something very impossible. He jumped. From space. To earth. Ground control to Major Tom, what? He was 24 miles off of the ground and he jumped, broke the sound barrier and made it safely home. I’m pretty sure an idea like that before he went ahead and did it would have garnered responses to the effect of, “Whatchyou talkin’ ‘bout, Felix?” But, Felix Baumgartner, the twelve astronauts, Copernicus and Columbus all did something impossible. All were told before they accomplished their feats that it couldn’t be done. Heck, they probably said that to themselves a time or two.

But, they did it anyway.

There is example after example of people doing the impossible. In fact, we do things regularly every single day that people once thought impossible. Right now, I’m typing on a sleek metal box with buttons and creating a document that I will post on an imaginary location in a digital world known as the internet. I guarantee you that my grandma couldn’t have envisioned anything like this when she was a kid. It would have been impossible.

But, we do it anyway.

Now, here’s where you come in. Right now, there’s something that you believe is impossible in your life that you desperately want to do. Maybe you would like to quit your job, but have a multitude of reasons why it’s impossible. Maybe you’d like to learn a new language, leave your spouse, have a child, make a million dollars, swim with dolphins… whatever. Whatever that thing is that calls to your soul, that you know you’d be a better person if you went ahead and figured out how to do it, that’s what I want to focus on. Because you can do it.

How do I know?

Because somebody before you probably already has.

If you can find even one single person who has done something similar, then it is evidence that no matter how many reasons you think you have to remain the shrinking violet in the face of your dream…

You can do it.

On his team, Felix Baumgartner had a guy who had previously jumped from 19 miles up. That guy was proof that something crazy like this just might be possible. Galileo had an idea that indeed the universe was not geocentric, so he looked to his predecessor, Copernicus for evidence that this was the case. In the famous words of our common vernacular: Go big or go home.

And, yes, there may be a million reasons why we shouldn’t or couldn’t do the thing we dream. Take a look at your favorite hero and ask yourself if any of those reasons would have stood in the way of their achievement. In the words of my stepmother, “People have done far more with far less.”

Now, let’s get serious and slightly spiritual for a second. There is a wonderful quote from the Gospel of Thomas (found in the gnostic gospels, which, in my mind, is a must-read):

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Just take a moment and imagine yourself living that impossible dream. Go ahead, indulge. Take notice of how you feel as you do this. Likely, all that you feel will be good. Glorious, in fact. You’ll probably see yourself, happy, relaxed, at ease and ecstatic about your life. Or, something along those fabulous lines, anyway. Now, let’s get back to your so-called reality for a second. Visualize the rest of your life without ever trying to achieve this impossible dream you so desire. Likely, all that you feel in this visualization will be bad. And, how do you think those bad feeling will continue to effect you on a day-to-day basis as you try and suppress this dream that lives within?

It’s not good. According to the Mayo Clinic living under a constant state of feeling bad (also known as stress) results in a host of unsexy symptoms ranging from a lack of sex drive to hair loss to generalized anxiety and chronic pain. That’s a bummer.

Life would be so different if we realized our dreams. No, no. Let me rephrase that. Your life would be so different if you realized your dreams. Yes, it takes effort. Yes, it takes bravery. But, remember that the difference between the hero and the coward is that the hero did the thing he or she feared anyway. The hero flies in the face of fear. Ask anyone who is living the life of their dreams and following their bliss if all the struggle and challenges to do so were worth it, and you will hear the exact, same answer. A very vocal, assured, confident and resounding: Yes.

It will be worth it. Especially because not going for your gold is going to eat you up inside, and may quite possibly and very literally destroy you. At the end of their lives, no one is commemorating the moments they stayed small, worked the extra day at a job they disliked or failed to ask the beloved girl or guy on the date they knew would be the start of something special. No one is proud of the moments they let slip by or escape their grasp. The moments that determine who we are and who we become are the moments where we step out of our comfort zone, from 24 miles up into space and fly into the face of what everyone else and sometimes ourself thought we couldn’t do.

We break our own sound barriers and learn that we’re capable of even more than we originally dared. This is how the impossible is done. This is how your impossible is done. To quote my very favorite modern poet, Andrea Gibson:

“I don’t believe in miracles, because miracles are the impossible coming true, and everything is possible.”

Anything on the list of impossibles are just things people haven’t been brave enough to try. Anything on your list has the same quality. It’s not that you’re not capable, or that you don’t already have everything you need. The sheer desire of the dream that lives inside you is what will give you the fuel to see it through to the end. It’s the only way to live. Go ahead, prove Thoreau right and live the life you’ve imagined. I’ll leave you with one last bit of wisdom from the mind of one more achiever of the impossible, a guy who studied more than 240 separate global mythologies and set in motion wheels and theories that would give birth to stories like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the great Joseph Campbell:

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”