You know that state you are in when you are a child and pretty much everything is possible? Someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up and, because the sky seems like it's the limit, you pick the best possible, most awesome thing in the whole world? Like astronaut or cowboy or princess or movie star...or in my case...pirate (post-Disneyland, I thought pirates lives seemed like the most awesome thing in the world). You could do anything, achieve anything, BE anything, accomplish anything. Then people start telling you that you are unrealistic. I don't know the exact age, but it happens slowly at first. People will smile sweetly at the crazy whims of a small child, but then at some point, they feel they really must let you know about reality. Reality is harsh. Reality means that sky isn't really the limit, that there is a much lower rung on the ladder that you could reasonably expect to reach. Only 0.1% of people become astronauts or something like that. There are tests and years of school and more tests and, well, you probably won't be the one to get to ride in that space ship to the moon, so maybe you should stop and think about doing something a little more practical.
I think that happens at a similar time to being told that Santa Claus is a bunch of hooey made up by retailers to sell more stuff.
Well, like pretty much everyone else in the world, I had a whole lot of years of having the 'skys the limit' ideas hammered out of me and I gave up that dream of being a pirate. That was, until I lived in San Francisco. San Francisco is crawling with pirates. Pirates of all types. And for the first time in my post-Santa Claus believing life, I started to see the sky again in my limits. It took my career from sputtering along to taking flight. I could do anything. And I achieved a great deal. I did impossible things all of the time and lived an impossible life. I became an author. I started movements that spread all over the world. I became an in-demand public speaker. I became a thought-leader. A country girl from rural Alberta who was told to be realistic unlocked her innermost unrealistic child again...but being unrealistic was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Years ago I read Tom Kelly's The Ten Faces of Innovation (totally loved it) where he talks about the Devil's Advocates as not being a desirable part of any organization. In fact, Kelly see's the so-called Devil's Advocate characters as being the biggest potential innovation killers in any organization:
(A) devil's advocate encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disasters-in-waiting. Once those floodgates open, they can drown a new initiative in negativity.
I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly. Devil's Advocates, or those people who like to talk about the downsides and think small, do only harm. Sure, sure. We don't want to live unrealistically and haphazardly! That would be downright foolish! Or would it? The truth is what a Devil's Advocate or anyone who tells you that you cannot be an astronaut or pirate or princess or that there is an age to stop believing in Santa Claus is doing is adding an artificial barrier to what you can possibly achieve.
The truth is, reality happens. But it happens very differently than the naysayer thinks it will. The minute I stopped putting false ceilings on my growth, I grew. If you somehow erroneously think you can make a billion dollars in the next year and nobody tells you it is impossible or silly, you will probably make it a good deal further along that road and -hell- maybe even achieve it because you missed that barrier! And if you don't, you learn. Experience is very different than a naysayer. It gives you lessons...really personal lessons to understand how to do better. Devil's Advocates are merely projecting their own fears onto you (ask a Devil's Advocate about their experience in any area they are telling you that you can't achieve what you want to and I'll bet 9 times out of 10 that experience will be nil). Nobody that gives you the 'realistic side' of things does you any favors. I learnt that way too late in life.
It's still a struggle for me. I still have plenty of Devil's Advocates in my life, even when I try to limit it. Hell, I have one that lives inside of my head that I have to keep at bay 24/7. But my mantra is and will always be, "Why not?" because at the end of the day, nobody (who really knows) told me it's impossible to be an author/speaker/ceo of a successful startup/marathon runner/pirate.