When I was a little girl my father told me I could be anything I wanted to be. He insisted that I could only be limited by my own desire and imagination. I never doubted that he was right. I never doubted that anything he said was correct. My life was like the song from the musical “Wicked”, it was “Unlimited.” The only issue was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with all the possibilities.
When I was six he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Until they diagnosed what was happening to him as a disease, people thought he was just a heavy drinker—he spent a great deal of time off balance. His arms and legs were weak and, at some point, he lost his eyesight. It came back but, for the doctors, it was an indication that there was something very wrong. My brother was a newborn when my parents learned about their fate. By the time Jeffrey was six, my father was not walking without some kind of assistance. And as we grew up, he grew weaker. First he lost the use of his legs, then his hands and arms. But he never lost his mind or his sense of humor. He was always interested in the world, politics, and, of course, developments in medicine. He was an avid reader, and if he couldn’t turn the pages someone else did it for him. No one ever thought of him as a sick person – Uncle Milton, just didn’t walk. Amazing as it was, and with everything he experienced, he was never anything but encouraging about the future, especially for his children.
Unfortunately, when you grow up you realize that there are always limitations. Like even if I wanted to be a math wiz, I simply wouldn’t have the brain capacity. As soon as I see a number my mind goes blank. And I mean I can’t even keep accurate account in my check book. And had I wanted to be an artist, the only thing that would have worked for me was to paint houses because I can neither draw nor stay in the lines. But not staying in the lines can be a talent which I tried, somewhat successfully to develop.
One of the qualities I find most admirable in people is the ability to understand their limitations. Maybe it’s better described as understanding their own abilities. I have some friends that are terrific writers. They can draw pictures with words the way David can take pictures with his camera. But being a writer or an artist or a computer guru are obvious talents. Some of my friends are experts in dealing with the Congress or government bureaucracies. Others are wonderfully linear and become experts in managing systems and how things operate. One of my great strengths is understanding how to manage people and organizations. Probably, as a consequence of my education but also life experience, I really know how to craft a message and make sure it’s delivered successfully. This does not mean people listen to me—it just means if they did they would be elected to very high offices.
Moving on... . Different people are good at different things. Some people are self-starters and some people need to be given clear directions in order to succeed. I have never been able to figure out into which category I fit. When given an assignment I can figure out how to complete it successfully and in the shortest amount of time. But I am not a visionary. I am not sure if I could create the assignment. For example, when I worked in government as the Chief of Staff of a small international agency, my boss would sit and think about things we should be doing that would impact on the world—like. you know, world peace. And I would set about finding ways to achieve the vision he had. And now we’re all living happily ever after in a world that glows in friendship and calm. OK maybe not, because we all need to be realistic about the goals we set, except visionaries. They are the people who find cures for diseases, design new technologies, and invent tools that make our lives easier, if not more worthwhile. The thing is, visionaries should never try to manage what they envision. They are two very separate talents. One demands the ability to dream, the other to be good at completing tasks. Additionally, while it is possible to lists tasks in order to fill a job like journalist or bureaucrat, (things like good writing skills and able to impede progress at every turn), you simply cannot write a job description for a visionary.
Be that as it may. Like my dad, we should all encourage our children to dream. To be visionaries if they can and to be ‘doers’ if that is where there talents lie. But we also need for them to know that there is great strength in acknowledging that there are some things they do better than others and understanding that they should work around those things at which they are not as good in order to avoid a lifetime of disappointments. And most important to encourage them to think out of the box so their lives will never be boring. We’re just sayin...Iris