Growing up in Chicago, we didn’t have Nintendo. But we did have imaginations. Case in point: the summer of 1980. I was 12 years old when several of the kids from my inner city neighborhood spontaneously decided to build a boat that we would one day sail upon Lake Michigan. Why not?
Every day we gathered in my back yard (a 28 foot wide lot), bringing scrap lumber, hammers, and nails from our garages. There we hammered away, designing as we went. We asked our mothers to save empty milk jugs that we planned to use for additional “flotation.” Fueled by PBJs and lemonade, we spun stories of our eventual voyage while pounding and playing under the sweaty summer sun.
At the end of the summer, we all went home. The boat was torn apart. There was no voyage. And no one was surprised or disappointed. You see, although it was never spoken, we all knew we would never sail. We had just been pretending.
Imagination is a powerful tool. By simply slipping on an alternate view of reality or a potential future, we can enable wonderful experiences and results that would otherwise be impossible. But when we “live there,” substituting imagination for reality, we enter a far less fun condition: self-deception.
At times, we all are pretending that we are making progress in our lives – getting healthier, developing our talents, completing our projects, or advancing in our careers. But does the evidence support the proclamations? Or are we, like my neighborhood friends, simply “building a boat?” Distracting ourselves with fanciful diversions while we are passing the time.
In order for progress to occur, we must move from the imagination phase to the mode of intention – Deliberate, logical action that is congruent with our dream. At this phase, a random plan (miscellaneous boards and milk jugs) reveals itself to be unseaworthy. We must step up our game, refine our efforts, and consult those who really know what they’re doing.
Intention starts with our words – statements of our desires and questions to reveal shortcomings. Intention is based in reality, not fantasy. As the work progresses, it brings failure, frustration, then (eventually) form to the desire.
Intention changes everything, and yet it is not enough. “Intending” can go on indefinitely. Achievement requires at least one more transition – beyond the mode of intending to that which is “impending.”
Impending means “approaching, forthcoming, about to happen.” This is no longer a “some day” proposition. The reality of a deadline, a test, diminishing resources, or an expiration date brings the challenge and the work clearly into focus.
Breakthroughs generally require a sense of urgency. This can be thrust upon us (as impending doom or impending opportunity), or it can be created through our own commitments.
Summers are perfect for imagination. Pretend. Boat building. However, we must evolve our thinking and our approach if we are ever to sail upon the winds of accomplishment.