Sunday, October 31, 2010

Real Life Tao - Limited Horizons

You know how it goes, don't you? You hear a song -- one you haven't heard for a long, long time -- that transports you back to a pivotal moment in your life. Last night I heard the song, Open Your Eyes, by the band, Asia, and I was transported back to the summer of 1991.

I was a graduate student at Pittsburg State University. As a former social worker and recently elected member to the Student Government Association, I pitched an idea to host a major conference on our campus that dealt with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). My proposal was met with great enthusiasm and I was given the go ahead.

This was before computers were really in vogue (at least for me!), so trying to find speakers involved a lot of phone calls and legwork. In about one month's time, I was able tentatively to line-up several prominent speakers to address a variety of issues around STDs and sexuality, in general. I worked out a schedule and a grid that featured several different events in different locations on campus each hour.

The aforementioned song featured prominently in the ad campaign I developed. Working with the school's communications department and a local radio station, I produced several 30 second Public Service Announcements which featured the chorus and instrumental portions of the song as background with some classically-trained voice-over professionals.

However, just as I started to enter the home stretch in taking this conference from initial conception to fleshed out reality, the rug was unceremoniously pulled out from underneath me. The student body president -- the woman I reported to on my progress -- decided that my vision was too grand and that the student senate wouldn't be able genuinely to pull it off. So, she (in conjunction with the school's administration) scaled back the conference to almost nothing and, not surprisingly, it barely registered a blip on the school's radar.

What angered me to no end was that, because the student body president had very limited horizons, she unilaterally surmised that no one else could possibly see a horizon beyond hers. The plug was pulled because she didn't think SHE had the time and energy to pull everything off, when, in fact, she wasn't doing the work in the first place!

I have encountered this problem many times before and since. As an individual who is obsessive-compulsive (OCD), when I focus on something, I often can do the work of many people. If I commit to an idea or project, I will see it through, come hell or high water. If she only would have stood back and allowed me to follow through, I had all the bases the covered and then some.

(Approximately one decade later, I was the sole person responsible for scheduling a regional all-day peace conference at Willamette University that featured nearly 50 presenters from across the region/nation and had attendance of over 750 people. So, when I put my mind to something, I deliver.)

For me, this goes back to the "one size fits all" mentality that permeates western society. Too often, people judge what is possible by what only they see as conceivable. If an idea falls beyond their own personal horizon, they incorrectly assume it is beyond everyone else's too!

One of the lessons repeated over and over again by the ancient Taoist sages is that, if a person is open to possibilities, more possibilities present themselves. So often, we stunt our own abilities and capabilities (or those of others) by narrowly confining our vision to what we think we can see before we actually see it. By setting arbitrary parameters on what we believe is possible or doable, we limit our potential for success.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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