Overcoming Obstacles: David Blaine

Nothing is quite as poisonous as the words, “you can’t do it.”  Those words are more caustic than tar, more debilitating than any disease, and have destroyed thousands of dreams. It’s not the words themselves; it’s just a sentence, an opinion, right?  It’s when the public ridicule of your resolve raises to critical mass, and becomes the mantra of the gloomy cloud of people that have already given up hope on their own dreams, and threatens to drown you out completely, that it becomes dangerous.  They start to convince you that, “maybe you can’t,” and it becomes clear that the emphasis on what we can’t do stifles our ability to “do the impossible.”

David Blaine doesn’t listen to these voices, even when the global scientific community insists that something isn’t possible. His insistence on pushing the boundaries on what’s possible can teach us a valuable lesson.  Sometimes, conventional wisdom isn’t true. Sometimes, failing firsthand is better than believing you are doomed to fail at the start. More on that after the break, but first, David Blaine, soft spoken and humble,  tells the story of how he learned how to hold his breath for 17 minutes.




Just for a moment, try to visualize what David did. He took a century of medical science that had proposed the “fact” that he was not physically capable of holding his breath that long, and he proved them wrong with dedication, humility, and an insatiable curiosity.  What obstacle is in front of you right now? Does it seem less challenging, comparatively? Even if you have naysayers, are they less vocal than the entire global medical community?

You can’t say that you don’t have the confidence to challenge the status quo.  David doesn’t strike you as the type-A personality that blatantly ignores criticism and rallies people behind his ideas. His humility is why I admire him.  David never knew confidently that he would succeed. He did, however, insist that if he was going to fail, he was going to prove firsthand through his own experience that it was not possible.  There is a certain organic quality to his research.  It places a heavy weight on his experiences and training, all the while assuming that his goal is attainable.  There is a difference between rejecting conventional wisdom, and accepting it blindly as a child does.

Speaking only from my limited experience in the IT industry, you could argue I haven’t lost my rose-colored glasses just yet. Still, I believe that in many industries we are growing an unhealthy reliance on data and information. I am not discounting the value of strategic information.  I merely challenge the notion that certain ideas are impossible because it didn’t work for company X and they said it was impossible.  It is truly striking, with the emphasis on innovation in Western business, that there is so little respect for the lost art of experimentation. The old days of booming U.S. innovation were not underscored by sweeping, widespread risk aversion. The fear of failure, the zealous protection of the stock price, is truly stifling our ability to secure a future where the world looks to the U.S.  If we take anything from Blaine, it should be the suspension of disbelief long enough to form firsthand, educated opinions.  Blindly believing something is impossible is the only surefire way to ensure its unattainability.

Our personal obstacles are usually all mental. Whatever your obstacle, the first hurdle is allowing yourself to believe that success is possible. The second is to experiment.  To many, the hardest obstacles are obtaining the necessary inertia to begin. If you want to do something, the easiest way to get started is to just start doing it.  It really is that simple!  Even if it is an awful failure, it provides useful input for the next time. Like all things, experience, practice, and diligence beget mastery.

This week, challenge “the way you’ve always done it” at work. Promise yourself that today you’ll spit out the excuses you swallowed yesterday. Most importantly, be extremely skeptical when anyone says something is impossible.  They may be right. They may be wrong. In closing, let me quote the Alchemist:

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you learn throughout your journey.”

Happy hurdling!



David BlaineCalled a “modern-day Houdini” by The New York Times, David Blaine made himself a household name with TV special David Blaine: Street Magic — shedding the sweeping glitz and drama of other TV magic programs in favor of a simple premise: illusions done right on the street, in front of handheld cameras and speechless passersby.

Posted in Blog, Inspirations, IT, Life Lessons, Shifting Perspectives, Work. Tagged with , , , , .

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