The Adventures of an Unrealistic Optimist

For quite some time I have considered myself a realistic optimist, someone who sees the world as it is, but works positively toward a desired outcome or solution.

Recently, though, I read about Erik Weihenmayer, who calls himself an unrealistic optimist.

It turns out Erik was the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest. (As a pre-teen, I aspired to be the first woman to climb Everest, and since then, anyone who even attempts the world’s tallest mountain has my admiration.) But a blind guy? Well, apparently he did it! (His book, Touch the Top of the World, describes his achievement.) Through intensive training, dedication, planning, and most of all belief, he reached the top.

In Fast Company magazine, Erik was quoted: “I hear people say, ‘Seeing is believing.’ I want people on my team who believe the opposite, ‘Believing is seeing.’ You’ve got to believe first in what you’re doing and be sure you have a reason to believe it. You can tell who you would want on your team. You say, ‘Hey, want to climb Everest with a blind guy?’ Pretty quickly, you’ll figure out who’s a believer.”

It is easy to look at our world and see a vast array of negative events and situations that boggle the mind. How can we ever turn the tide? Even in our businesses and careers, the “impossible” seems to show up regularly.

Take Tex Gunning, a Dutchman who is President of Unilever Bestfoods, Asia. In 1995 at age 45 he decided to learn how to make a solving major social problems an integral part of their corporate mission. His efforts resulted in one of the most dramatic business turnarounds on record.

The mission he took on was no less than ending the starvation of children in Asia, where a child dies every 5 seconds. They started in India, where the problem is at its biggest in terms of scale, because “if we can crack it there, we can crack it anywhere.”

In What Is Enlightmenment? magazine, he was quoted: “It’s an interesting process because the more I look at it, the more I think I am tackling something that I can never, ever solve. But simultaneously, I’m very optimistic because there’s beginning to be a groundswell of people around the world who are saying, ‘This is unacceptable.'”

When we take the top off what we think is possible, it opens up a new wave of creativity.

Erik Weihenmayer said: “There are limits. But there are good questions and bad questions in life. The bad questions are what-if questions. What if I were smarter or stronger? What if I could see? Those are dead-end questions. A good question is, How do I do as much as I can with what I have?”

Taking the strengths and talents that we have right now, we can achieve so much more than we usually imagine we can.

So where in your life are you limiting what is possible for not only you personally, but for the world? You have phenomenal gifts and talents. Take the top off what you think is possible.

See you on your “Everest”!