When author and Minister Robert Schuller originally penned this question, I doubt that he expected this seemingly simple query to end up being re-produced on posters, coffee mugs and office paperweights the world over. Chances are you have already seen this question somewhere along your journey through life.
But have you ever stopped long enough to actually answer it? I mean really answer it. I don’t mean a knee-jerk response like, “Sure, I’d win the lottery and never work again!” I mean a full-hearted, full-fledged exploration to tap into what you would attempt in your life if you knew, unequivocally, that you could not fail?
Exploring this type of question helps us to tap into our passion and purpose. It allows the opportunity to ask ourselves if how we are living and relating in the world now is how we really want to be living. Too often, we don’t allow ourselves to dream into the possibilities of our lives – there are bills to pay, kids to raise, closets to be cleaned.
Life is OK enough, we think. But what if we did allow ourselves to dream into the possibilities? And what if dreaming into those possibilities ultimately led us into a fresh, new direction – one that more fully utilizes that which makes us unique in this world?
This is not a question to be answered by over-thinking. The answer is inside you, patiently waiting to be acknowledged. For some of you, it is already clearly formed but whenever it emerges, you talk back- telling it, “Be quiet – that’s not practical.”
For others, the answer may come more as an image, a sound or a feeling. What is it? Write it down. Maybe it’s just a hunch of some sort. Write it down. Whatever ‘it’ is, and however it comes to you, start by writing it down.
Many people think this question has only to do with the way we choose to make our living. And while it’s true that this question often serves as a valuable springboard for shifting career direction, its value in calling you into more passionate and purposeful living is much greater than this.
For example, how might you change the way you relate to another person in your life if you were sure of the outcome? Would it change how you parent children? Might you allow yourself to pursue a creative talent or interest just for the sheer joy of it?
What is the story that you tell yourself about yourself? I’m talking about the story that you tell yourself about how you are “supposed” to be in the world. Sometimes, pieces of that story come from our childhood messages – things that teachers or parents told us about ourselves that we have unquestioningly carried with us into our adult world.
For example, how many of you were labeled “shy” as a child? Maybe a parent introduced you to others in this way: “This is Mary. She’s shy.” At that moment, you were handed a script. The script says that you are shy and thus expected to behave as a “shy” person does. As you go along in life, you may feel the tug of your inner passion to dance, sing or act. But then the script kicks in, automatically, almost unconsciously and you think: “Shy people don’t sing. I’m shy. Therefore, I don’t sing.”
Answering the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” offers you the opportunity to re-examine that old script, whatever it is, and to challenge it in the light of day. It’s an opportunity to throw away the old, self-limiting script and to re-write one that serves you better as the person you truly are and wish to be today.
In my counseling and psychology practice, I am always amazed at the striking transformation that takes place once people allow themselves to explore this question in real depth. Over and over, I see seemingly depressed people who are slumped into my office chair, suddenly light up the room with their energy.
“You know, Dr. McKenzie, there is this one thing…,” they will say. And then they will share their passion, forgetting, for at least a moment, all the things that they tell themselves about why that passion is “stupid,” “impractical,” or “impossible.”
And I then point out how the energy in the room just shifted – how their face has more color, how their voice has more energy, how their eyes are smiling.
And so the work of transformation begins to take place.
What makes your eyes smile?
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?