I like to pretend I’m a pessimist, but I think I’m more of a realist. I see that there is a lot of adversity out in the world, and so I expect it to happen. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t take a risk on 50/50 odds that something amazing could happen if things all converge seamlessly.
Whenever someone comes at me with old, tired commentary about what can’t be done, or how something clearly lacking has “always been done that way,” I employ this stance.
The sentiment doesn’t argue or fight with the old… it just challenges the idea that there’s no room left for improvement.
A long history is a fantastic argument for reverence, education, preservation, and tradition… but that does not make it a valid argument for outright rejecting innovation or change. Particularly when the world around it requires new contextualization for that longstanding thing to make sense. Ideally, new innovation blends history into new growth, and that is the kind of thinking that inspires me.
However, challenging the old is not how this stance came to be. This challenge stance emerged as I studied the principles of app and web design, and worked with artists and startups who made great and transformational projects simply by believing that those projects could see the light of day, and then tested to confirm that that whole industries were thirsty for better options. It comes from the idea of disruption, vision, listening, and collaboration. And it works because if everyone’s bitching about something, the time is probably nigh for an improvement.
I was particularly inspired by a story told by Bernard Beckwith. He described hitting a challenging fundraising goal by locking himself in a room with several of his group’s members and agreeing that they wouldn’t leave without a solution. They put their minds to focusing on the solutions, not the barriers or problems. That is practical application of belief. That spurred the core of this philosophy.
The other critical piece comes from a more saddening part of my history. I have a tenuous but loving relationship with my parents. Part of the difficulty lies in their core beliefs, which suggest there are a vast number of things that cannot be done, and especially cannot be done by “people like us”. This has been one of the most bitter and ugly pieces of bad advice I’ve ever had to work though, and it lives on today! I actively work on unpacking, shutting down, and wiping away that parental programming daily. And I mean it when I say daily.
Things are possible. They are usually made possible by people who think them up and believe in their possibility. Don’t ever let people tell you otherwise, even if they are your parents, because it’s not the truth about you. More often than not, parents are speaking from a place of personal history and fear. Many times that fear is founded because it’s based in experience. But, it doesn’t have to become your fear, too. Generations, experiences, times and possibilities shift every second. Imagine if every fear was permanent reality. The whole human race would just be a pile of sobbing, blubbering people, too scared to move an inch. This can’t happen.
So, what’s the POWER in the phrase “What if it could be awesome, instead?
The what if part is the challenge… the awesome part symbolizes high standards. The instead suggests that implementing would build an entirely new narrative. A new way of going about something, that replaces not the history, but the feelings of impossibility residing there before, embedded in the status quo.
I use this phrase to correct things big and small… like choosing a grocery shopping option, how I structure working for myself, and the way in which I bank. Instead of thinking that everything good or bad is happening to me, this phrase reminds me that I could think of a new outcome and replace whatever is bothering me with it! It can get habits unstuck quickly… and for whatever reason, the cheery tone of the phrase snaps me out of a funk and makes me smile…
So, next time you have a stubborn problem, ask yourself:
What if ________ could be awesome, instead?
Then, open your mind to the possibilities around that idea.