Driven by Opportunity… Or possibility?

If you could name the one thing that really drives you, really engages you and lights your fire, what would it be? Would it be opportunity? Or would it be possibility?

I had a conversation the other day with a colleague wherein she mentioned that she perceives me to be very driven by opportunity.  “You are able to see the big picture and within that, you can identify and seize opportunities to make a difference as they arise,” she said.  I thought about it for a moment and then agreed, replying with “Yeah, I guess.”

That concept – and her perception – stayed with me for a couple of days and upon reflecting, I realized that I really am not driven by opportunity; I am driven by possibility. And, although the two are related, they are very different at their core.

Opportunity is all around us and if we’re paying close enough attention, we will see it. If we can see it, we can use it.  Going a little deeper – opportunity is something that’s kind of passive.  It exists.

Possibility on the other hand is something that lives in the minds of those who refuse to be limited by that which already exists.  Seeing possibility allows us to create something from nothing and is limited only by the boundaries of our own imaginations. Seeing possibility in the world around us gives us the power to create our own opportunities.

For people who see endless amounts of possibility, the possibilities are endless.  They generally find themselves occupying professional positions that did not exist before their tenure.  The positions they hold are almost always created around the possibility that they bring to the table.  They are flexible, imaginative and buoyant problem solvers.  These are the people who, no matter the challenge, will always find a way.  They are change makers and in the grand scheme of things, they are rare.

Our systems are in desperate need of people who broker in possibility.  These agents of change are the ones who will find new and truly innovative ways to solve the toughest and most gruesome challenges we face in today’s society.

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in young brilliance such as 12 year-old Thomas Suarez who taught himself how to create iPhone apps, 14 year-old Taylor Wilson who created nuclear fission in his parents’ garage trying to find ways to solve the global energy crisis and 15 year-old Ann Makosinski who invented a revolutionary flashlight powered by body heat.

This power to see possibility exists in everyone, but as we grow, it is diminished.  As Sir Ken Robinson states: “…we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists.  The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”

Endless amounts of testing and research have proven that the innovative and fearless spirit we see in youngsters like Thomas, Taylor and Ann is “educated out of us” as Robinson puts it.

How do we put a stop to this leaking sieve of creativity?  First, we embrace the possibility that we can effect change.  The possibility that we can choose to do what’s right for our students and that we can allow them to learn and grow in a system where creativity, diversity and individuality are truly embraced.

The next step is to end the senseless use of labels that box us in and kill the creative process.  Words like socioeconomic status, ethnicity, manager and subordinate, male and female have no place in the world of possibility.  We are all capable of being amazing in our own way, but somehow that gets taken from us over time.

Society has a need to categorize us and put us into boxes.  After a decade or so of being labeled in this way, the majority of children will find no other option than to succumb to the system’s demand for sameness. We’ve all heard the stories… “Well, I wanted to be a scientist, but I was told that I wasn’t smart enough.” “I wanted to be a computer scientist, but I was told that because I was a girl, that really wasn’t the best field for me.” ….It’s interactions like these that grind away at the hopes and dreams that exist in all children and it robs our society of possibility.

What if we stopped telling kids what they’re good at and what they’re not and started letting them tell us what their dreams are? For the most part, this is not the world that exists today, but if we engage in the possibility, we will see that we have the power to create an environment where this is the norm.  It should be our goal to have open minds, to listen to them and to help them achieve their dreams.

Let’s believe in the power that we have to encourage and guide our children and let’s believe in the power that they have to change the world.  Possibility is a state of open-mindedness, achieved first by belief in one’s self and second by belief in the power and goodness of those around us.

The first step to doing something truly ground breaking is simply believing that it is possible.

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Posted on July 2, 2014, in Inspiration. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Beautifully expressed, Michelle. I hope your attitude of possibility goes viral.

  2. Wonderful post. Thanks!

  3. Greg Robinson

    You have identified a clear, but profound truth . . . and shined it into the practical world. The term “opportunistic” is seldom used as a compliment. But to say that someone ‘reaches for the limits of the possible’ . . . that is high praise. You are telling us to first see the as-yet-unrealized possibilities, then chose those opportunities that lead us there. That’s the essence of inspiration. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment! 🙂 I think it’s important to recognize the stark difference between someone who can see opportunity in ways that work to help further the cause and someone who is “opportunistic” which is very selfishly motivated behavior. Not sure I would use those two phrases interchangeably. Here’s a post that describes what being opportunity driven is: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1807

      • Thank for the further clarification! Yes, I was looking at somewhat different slant . . . and to exceed even the best forms of being “opportunity driven” makes your point that much strong.

  4. Wow! Well said! I hope more teachers can read this post. It’s very enlightening.

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