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Make the Impossible Possible

Winthrop University does a pretty cool thing…  the university designates a common book, a book all students, faculty, and staff read.  This year’s book, Make the Impossible Possible, is a life story about Bill Strickland.  The first chapter, From the Ghetto to Harvard Business School, sums up what the book is all about, but the meat in the middle is worth the read.

My blog started as a way for me to post information so I don’t lose it with a harddrive failure as I almost did in the past (learn more here).  As I’ve done in the past, I underline important points in the book and then type them out for my own reference.  I hope you get something out of the quotes and go on to purchase the book.  It’s a great read.

Rebuilding America, one slide show at a time: Bill Strickland on TED.com

With subtle accompaniment by longtime friend Herbie Hancock, and a slide show that has opened the minds (and pocketbooks) of CEOs across the country, artist and youth activist Bill Strickland tells a quiet and astonishing tale of redemption through arts, music and unlikely partnerships. (Recorded February 2002 in Monterey, California. Duration: 35:28.)

Make the Impossible Possible

Bill Strickland

Every day, the world invites you to make a difference.

The same basic recipe for success: high standards, stiff challenges, a chance to develop unexplored talents, and a message that many of them haven’t heard before – that no matter how difficult the circumstances of their lives bay be, no matter how many bad assumptions they’ve made about their chances in life, no matter how well they’ve been taught to rein in their dreams and narrow their aspirations, they have the right, and the potential, to expect to live rich and satisfying lives.

Share your story with anyone who will listen.

Unspoken intuition of the human spirit is remarkably resilient, and that even in damaged and disadvantaged lives, and in circumstances where the odds seems hopelessly stacked against you, there is endless potential waiting to be freed.

It happened because I refused to be limited by what conventional wisdom , or other people, or the cautious little voice we all have in our heads told me I couldn’t do.

I didn’t do any of it out of selflessness. I did it to be myself.  I did it to enrich my own life, to deepen the quality and meaning of my own experience.  I did it because it was a part of what I had to do if I genuinely wanted to be me.

Success isn’t a destination.

Success is something you assemble from components you discover in your soul and your imagination.  Authentic success, the kind of success that will enrich your life and enlarge your spirit, the only kind of success that matters, comes from knowing and trusting the deepest aspirations of your heart.

We treat people with respect and get respectful behavior in return.  We put them in a beautiful place, give them a small taste of what a decent, dignified future might feel like, and that makes all the difference.  The beauty we’ve designed into our center isn’t window dressing; it’s an essential part of our success.

Small rich human experiences are how you plant the seeds of a dream.

You can’t inspire a person to live a better life if they don’t know what a good life feels like.

I had a reason to struggle, and that made all the difference.

I realized that a meaningful life was not some abstract thing drifting off in an unattainable future.  Life is right now.

I had no deep, distinguished history to shape me, but I knew that if I wanted a little of what they had, I’d need a firm foundation for my dreams, a clear sense of purpose and identity.  If life hadn’t given me those things, I’d have to find a way to create them on my own.

This was my dream, not theirs.  I couldn’t expect them to buy into my vision just because I wanted them to. I wasn’t going t save anyone who wasn’t ready to be saved, and if I was expecting gratitude for what I was trying to do, I was on a fool’s mission – the people I was trying to help hadn’t asked me to help them, and they didn’t owe me anything.  All I could do was share what I had to share with whoever was willing to listen.

The trick was to find that organizing context, then use it as a framework to force order and meaning on the steady stream of themes and concepts.

I couldn’t save anyone, in fact until I saved myself, until I knew myself and knew what I wanted my life to be.

Identity isn’t something you inherit, it’s something you must discover.

Respect breeds respect.  High expectations lead to higher achievement.

While vision is a crucial aspect of achievement, it gets you nowhere unless you have the dogged tenacity to make your vision real.

Each corporation offered me a conditional pledge, which they would release to me only if I found matching money.

Create an environment that has the power to transform lives.

Trust your passion, identify your dreams, and find the courage to share them with others, no matter how many times they call you a fool.  If your vision has merit, no matter how impossible it may seem, someone will recognize it and help you make it come true.

When one dream comes true, others soon follow.

He trusted us to do it because he trusted our mission and our vision, and recognized its power.

“This place is your instrument, man, and everything that happens here is your song.” Dizzy Gillespie

Nobody could have planned a place like this.  It had to rise up, had to be conjured up, as a natural, almost inevitable expression of someone’s desperate search for meaning and purpose.

They don’t play from a formula or from any conventional wisdom; they take risks, they stretch, they explore, always looking for new opportunities, and always trusting their talents and their instincts to bring them home.

We all need to have the vision and flexibility to react, recover, and keep moving forward every time life hits a snag or throws us an unexpected curve.  It is the way we respond to these improvisational demands, embraced them, and use then to further our lives that defines us as musicians in touch with the melodies and harmonies of life.

When we risk ourselves, our time, our careers for what we believe, we can accomplish things we never imagined.  We can achieve the impossible.  The goal is to plumb the deepest longings of our hearts – for freedom, for solace, for joy, to help others – then try to capture those feelings in a song that adds meaning to our lives and maybe, if we’re lucky, some hope and harmony to the world.

Intelligent, responsible pursuit of things that really matter – to the spirit, to the soul – is the best and most reliable path to genuine success in the world.

They dig down past compromise, past imitation, past all the conventional wisdom about what’s important or true.  For them, every performance, each day, is a chance to discover new depth, new range, new tone, new phrasing.

If we don’t embrace the reality that our life is what is taking place in this moment, our life will never be entirely our own.  It will always be something we chase after.  And that chase will seem like the most natural thing in the world.

“Now” is the only solid reality you can count on.  Now is when you build your future that matters.

We’re teaching them the art of living: we’re giving them rich and transforming experiences that give them a visceral understanding of how a good human life should feel.

We give them something to believe in, something to be part of, something that not only promises them a future but enriches the quality of their lives right here and now.  We want them to buy a concept – that a meaningful life is already within their reach- and to get them to buy it we do everything we can do to give them a sense of what it might feel like to live a life that swings.  We all respond more powerfully to things that can change our life today.  Once they get a taste, they want more of it.  That’s when their hearts open up to new possibilities and they begin to explore their own potential, disclosing new talents and building on their strengths, listening for the song they were always meant to sing.

Our drive for titles and money is too often based on a desperate need to prove ourselves to others, rather than the passion to live a life in a way that draws on our true values and talents, enlarges our spirits and allows us to be who we need o be to live rich satisfying lives.

Meaning is not something you can add to your life in limited amounts or defer to a time in your life after you’ve “made it”.

True fulfillment isn’t about chasing some narrow definition of achievement or wealth; it’s about trusting the value of your passions and principles and using them as a base to build a life.

Play out your dreams, there is no second chance.  You either choose to impact your environment or your environment will define you.

Success in the long run has less to do with finding the best idea, organizational structure, or business model for an enterprise, than with discovering what matters to us as individuals…For the most part, extraordinary people, teams, and organizations are simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things that matter to them.

The hardest thing about living and exceptional life is realizing what it means, in simplest and most essential terms, to be alive.

I never ask for handouts; I just show people what we’re up to and leave it up to them to see the benefit of being part of what we’re trying to get done.

We need to see past the limitations of conventional wisdom and common sense and develop the clear-eyed, uncompromising practicality of the artist.

Too often a goal becomes a tyrant.  It turns you into a runner in a race, following a course someone else has laid out.  Your vision narrows.  You race by any number of interesting side streets, full of the unexpected, but you don’t even see them because your eye is fixed too firmly on the finish line.

There are times when life gives you a wake-up call and forces you to examine your dreams with unvarnished clarity.  For many, it’s a time when a lot of dreams die.

My dream wouldn’t let me rest.  That’s what true passion does.  It lifts your vision above the safe and the sensible and gives you the guts or the foolhardiness to do something outrageous when only the outrageous will do.  It draws your eye to opportunities you would otherwise miss.

The power of genuine passion 0 it ignores the impossible and gives you the drive  you need to do whatever you have to do to make a dream come true, no matter how extreme, or unlikely, or absurd those actions might seem.

That’s not to say that doors fly open to you as soon as you muster the courage to follow a passion.  Often, being true to a passion forces you to endure more than your share of defeat and discouragement.  But at the same time, when your dreams are rooted in the things you care for most, you naturally find the strength and determination you need to prevail.

My passion simply wouldn’t let me see myself as a failure.  It wouldn’t allow me to use my mistakes and shortcomings as excuses to quit.  One of the distinguishing factors of a true passion is that it never allows you to accept the excuse of failure.  Failure is a function of ambition.  You fail when you fall short of some specific goal.  You didn’t measure up and as a result success has passed you by.  In such a scenario, a failure is something that you become.  But passion isn’t something that you strive for.  It’s part of you.  It’s never out of reach, and no matter how many times you stumble in your effort to embrace it, it’s always there, giving you the chance to take another shot.

The fear of failure can stifle anyone’s dream of living an extraordinary life.  And the way you overcome that fear is by trusting your passion.  Passion won’t protect you against setbacks, but it will ensure that no failure is ever final.  Setbacks become learning experiences.  They give you the chance to refine your vision, rethink your approach, and develop the skills and values you need to achieve the things you’re after.  Most important, they remind you how much your dreams mean to you and give you the chance to strengthen your commitment to making those dreams come true.

Passion isn’t blunted by defeat.  It isn’t tamed by common sense or conventional expectations.  Passions have no practical purpose – their only purpose is your passion itself.  But trusting and exploring your passions can have tremendous effect, because they engage your mind and imagination in a way that forces you to surmount any number of practical concerns and achieve extraordinary.

A life based on real passion grows organically, the way the growth of a tree is guided by its need for sunshine and rain.

Passions do more than give us a vision of what a life can be; they force us to find the values, strengths, and skills we need to become the kind of person we are meant to be.

Talent without passion is rudderless.  But passion, when coupled with even the most rudimentary skills and a deep desire to learn, can accomplish miracles.

Passion also helps us generate the courage we need to accomplish our dreams.  Trusting in a passion requires a long leap of faith, and a leap of faith can be a frightening thing.  But if the passion is strong enough, it will give you an irresistible reason to find the courage to face any challenges that stand in your way.  It won’t settle for less.

Courage gets you nowhere without conviction.

No genuine success is possible without an intense, tireless, and focused sense of drive.

It’s not about being popular, it’s about having the guts and the integrity to be true to your vision, about caring more about the thing you’re trying to achieve than your allegiances to ideology, conventional expectations, or what other people might think.

I didn’t want him to go to those corporations as someone asking for a handout – I wanted him to go in there as someone who can deliver something the corporations need.

Does he have the commitment to lead, or is he just trying to make a statement with his life  We’ll find out in his actions.

He had conventional success handed to him like a gift-wrapped package, but he turned it down to be his life on something that mattered to him more.

You don’t have to fix everything that’s broken in your life – every weakness, every shortcoming, every doubt.  You only have to find what works, build on it, trust it, and find a way to make it swing.

Poverty is a cancer of the spirit.

By living out that story in my mind, I was rehearsing for eventual success.  It’s something that I think a lot of successful people do.

You can’t simply impose your product on the world and expect it to be embraced.  You have to find the essence of your product, understand what it is that you’re really selling, then help it find its place in the world in a way that will all it to thrive.

Entrepreneurs don’t see setbacks as defeats, but as detours.

There’s a phrase jazz musicians use:  Tell your story.  They’re talking about a way of playing that not only displays your virtuosity but also gives the audience a glimpse of your soul.

A fantasy is about having something – big salary, an impressive house, an important-sounding title, social or professional prestige.  But the satisfaction you experience when such a fantasy is realized is fleeting and unfulfilling; rather than feeding the spirit in a nourishing way, it always leaves you craving more.

A dream is about building something – relationships, identity, quality of experience.  Because dreams rise out of genuine human needs, they feed the spirit in a profoundly satisfying way.  A genuine dream brings direction, convection, substance, and satisfaction to your life the moment you commit yourself to it.

The most important difference between fantasies and dreams is that fantasies are egotistical and self-centered; they isolate you and force you to live your life as a series of win-lose situations.  They define “success” as a matter of the survival of the fittest.  Dreams, on the other hand, connect you to the world and to other human beings.  They make it clear that individual success is enlarged and enhanced by the spiritual fulfillment and success of the people with whom you share the planet.

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