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How to Do the Impossible

What does impossible really mean? Is anything truly impossible?

Humans can’t fly, but the Wright brothers proved an airplane could get us close enough. We can’t defy physics and teleport from one side of the world to another, but the internet made it possible to instantly bring the other side of the world to us.

What is impossible?

When I think about the impossible, I don’t really worry much about the undoable. I know I can’t jump off a cliff and start flying. I know I can’t close my eyes and teleport to China. What I worry about is the extremely unlikely – the problems that are solvable but so few people are willing to work on. Bringing peace to the Middle East might be a good example. Or, how about getting astronauts back to Earth without a space craft?

These are things that obviously aren’t impossible, but because either:

  1. So many people have tried and failed, or
  2. No one is brave enough to give it a shot,

they inherit the label “impossible.”

Picture, for a second, your own life and your own dreams. What are those things that you’ve always wanted to do that seem completely impossible. Hold that thought for a second. Is it actually impossible or does it just feel impratical because you don’t think you can do it. Possible for someone else, perhaps, but not for you.

There’s the problem. And the solution, believe it or not, isn’t all that complicated.

It’s commitment.

The #1 thing you must have in order to do the impossible is commitment. It comes before planning and action and everything else.

It’s the hardest thing to come by, but without it, all else is wasted.

What is commitment?

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the state of being obligated or emotionally compelled.”

Commitment, in my mind, is the resolution to succeed. It’s the burning desire that absolutely has to be present in order to do your impossible. It’s the drive that keeps you moving forward when defeat looks certain. It’s your obligation to risk everything for success because living without it seems pointless.

When you commit, you have to commit to do; you can’t commit to try. Committing to try doesn’t work.

Committing to try means you’ll give it your best, and if it doesn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be. When you’re doing the impossible, things don’t work out because you tried; they work out because you kept trying and never gave up until they did.

Commitment means giving your full and undivided attention to something at the exclusion of everything else. When you commit to doing the impossible, other parts of your life suffer because you’re completely unbalanced.

What does it take to commit?

Clearly, the main reason people are afraid to commit to something is because they don’t know what it will require of them. It’s never completely obvious what you’re signing up for. You might think that if you really want something, then it shouldn’t matter, but I don’t think that’s true. The cost does matter.

So what is the actual cost?

Sure, in any commitment there’s a leap into the uncertain, but the idea that there’s no way to know what’s required is more of an excuse than a real barrier. The trick is to figure out as much as you can, overestimate the cost where necessary, and commit to pay the price.

If you want to travel around the world, what’s the financial cost? What’s the time commitment? How will it affect your relationships?

Those are the questions you have to ask yourself. When you come to a conclusion, it’s a lot easier to look at your impossible dream and say “yes, that’s worth it” or “no, I’m not willing to pay that price.” Either answer is fine, but making that decision based on real figures instead of fear is important.

The 7 Summits Club

There are 21 challenges on my 1% Club list, but the one I talk about the most right now is my journey to join the 7 Summits Club by climbing the tallest mountain on every continent. To date, there are less than 300 people in the world who’ve made it. Plenty more have attempted, but most gave up and more than a few died.

Just a few months ago, joining that club seemed completely impossible. I didn’t know anything about mountaineering. That’s probably why it’s always been a dream of mine – I thought I couldn’t ever do it.

But when I got serious and penciled it out, it wasn’t actually that hard to see just what it would take to make the commitment.

Adding up the financial costs, I expect I’ll spend at least $100,000. I had to come to terms with that number and commit to spending it. No, I don’t have that much money, so I have to save. Committing to this goal means I won’t be buying a house any time soon – maybe not for many years. It means I’ll share a rental with 5 other roommates for as long as I can, even if I get tired of it. It means I won’t own my own car or buy expensive groceries or go out to the movies as often as I’d like.

But I don’t care because I know the cost and I’m ready to pay it.

When I consider the time commitment, it looks like I’ll spend the next 7 years chasing this dream. That’s longer than I’ve spent going after anything before. If I run out of money, it could take longer. A lot of things can change in 7 years, and there’s no way to know that everything will stay on track. That doesn’t matter, though, because I’m ready to make the time commitment.

And what about my relationships? How do the people around me have to pay for my ambition? Well, for the next 7 years, it means my family and loved ones will worry about me. They’ll see less of me than they’re used to because, if I’m not up on one mountain, I’ll be holed up figuring out how to plan and finance another. When my friends invite me out or to go on fun trips, I’ll say no because this is more important.

All of my relationships will suffer at least a little. Most will be strained. Some will even die completely. I know this, but accept it because I think the message I can send to the world by accomplishing this goal is worth the cost.

The Cost of Impossible

If I fail, I’ll have accomplished nothing. I’ll be one more burn out that followed his dream and lost. I’ll be one more example that conservative parents can point to and say to their children, “Look at him. You don’t want to end up like that, do you?”

But I’m going to do it anyway because I know the cost and I’m ready to pay it. It’s a commitment I’m willing to make.

The next time you tell yourself that what you want to do is impossible, take a second to ask yourself if you’re being truthful. Very few things in this world are impossible. Most of the time, the price is just too high.

Do you know the cost of your “impossible”? If you do, are you willing to paying it?

My friend, Joel, also spends a lot of time think about this over at Blog of Impossible Things.

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Image by: morberg