Impossibly Naive

April 6th, 2013

There was an interesting discussion this week and the point was made that the only reason some people do “impossible” things is that they are naive about what they are getting themselves into.

While I understand the sentiment, I feel that there is a better clarification to be made because, as usual, I don’t think life is that simple.

There are only two reasons you would take on an impossible task.

  1. You do not know that it is impossible.

  2. You do not believe that it is impossible.

To take on a task known to be impossible is an exercise in futility.

If you don’t know that a task is impossible you’ll likely go in, expecting some degree of success. You may think that it will be very easy to begin with. Even if the project is daunting, your expectations will be that you will be able to pull through.

Now, there is a necessity for the determination required to complete a task. Many people will gladly take on a task, naively thinking it’ll be easy and as soon as it’s not, drop it like a hot rock. Whether the desire to complete something that was started is stubbornness, grit, stick-to-it-tive-ness, a sense of pride or duty, or more naiveté, it probably doesn’t matter, but it will dictate whether things are finished or not.

Do not discount the power of positive thinking.

In this first instance, I would expect a slower process with many stops for trouble shooting. Each problem is tackled and things move along as things are solved. This is a huge chance to learn but also an opportunity to make mistakes, both good and bad. (Hopefully good, since we’re all a bit of an idiot.)

In the second instance, if you do not believe a task is impossible, you may still recognize it as being extremely difficult. This offers a potential “buffer” from the initial idea to the actual implementation for planning that wouldn’t naturally come if the project was considered simple. This extra pre-production could potentially make the “impossible” easier to tackle and it might mean fewer mistakes and setbacks, but it also means a slower start to the actual implementation.

Personally, I would lean toward the second instance as the better of the two situations. It’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into so you can properly prepare. Whether it’s gathering materials, making plans, or just prepping mentally for a lot of hard days and late nights, a well thought out attack plan usually makes things smoother by several orders of magnitude.

Yet, I think there can also be value in jumping into something without knowing the difficulty scale. The experience of a new challenge can be exhilarating.

Of course, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and to get in over your head when you don’t understand the scope of what you’re signing up for. As usual, I think that’s the caution that needs to be mentioned. With any project, there’s a level of personal care and responsibility that needs to be allowed for. That’s one of the dangers of not having a well established plan.

It’s hard to conclude a topic like this, because ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to do anything. Every situation calls for a different tactic. Sometimes it’s good to be naive and to make mistakes, as long as those mistakes are learning experiences and don’t end up destroying you. While it’s great to have impossible tasks on your résumé, you have to weigh the costs, most instances don’t dictate the need for a martyr.

Which brings me to my dad’s favorite saying. “Moderation in everything, including moderation.” Sometimes you just need to be extreme.