The fun of “What if…?”
I had the pleasure of walking the kids to school this morning. The air was crisp, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun was really just beginning to come up on the horizon of our back-streets path. One of the things that’s happened since I made my career transition is that I’ve been much more aware of the sky. It’s not that my head is so much in the clouds (with all the connotations of ditzy dreaming that come along with that phrase), but my attention is certainly more upwardly-aimed when it comes to that great big ol’ beautiful canvas that hangs above us all, on which the light of the sun, and clouds, and birds and planes in flight, and the colours of life get splashed to sometimes stunning effect.
This morning I noticed some vapour trails and pointed them out to the kids, and we then had a wonderful discussion which reminded me of the power of creativity, and the fun that comes with innovation, inventiveness, and play.
“What if,” I said to the kids, “we were riding those trails? What do you think the texture would be like?”
“Soft!” one shouted.
“Nothing, because they couldn’t really hold us because it’s just air!,” came another voice.
“Ooh, ok,” I said, “and what if the trail was like a slide and at the end we were able to bounce on to a trampoline and do cool back flips and somersaults?”
Tim Peake had been on the tv this morning, gobbling a droplet of water in front of him, in the weightlessness of space, as if he were catching and eating a nut he’d thrown in the air, so maybe space and the atmosphere were on our minds.
“What if we were in an airplane and able to jump into another airplane and go somewhere different?!”
I got a perfect image of the Jetsons cartoon and all their skyways and rocket cars.
“Yeah, we could be heading to California and then decide that the plane over there has a more interesting destination and go jump on it!”
It was so fun, we all had ideas and were imagining the possibilities. The power of “What if…?” and “Yes, and…” thinking.
Then, out of nowhere: “What if we jumped on an airplane that took us to Syria and we got shot?”
Cue the loud and awful sound of a record scratching, or the police busting in on a ragingly-good party with underage drinking, a buzzkill of the highest order. “Hmm,” I said, with a grimace. “Yeah, I guess that doesn’t sound so good.”
After a pause, I recovered, and, ever the optimist, offered: “What if our airplane landed in Syria and we were able to help bring peace there?” I think that was the final thought that hung in the air, before we had to concentrate on crossing the road safely to the other side.
As adults, we often don’t give ourselves permission to imagine “What if?”, and really run with the dream and the idea and feed on the idea of possibilities of limitless imagination. I remembered being at a great session hosted by Impact International, where the creativity expert Steve Chapman had us partner up and play the “Yes, and…” improv game where you build on the words and idea of your partner by saying “Yes, and”, and then adding your own idea. The partner responds, “Yes, and,” and it carries on. In that exercise, a woman from Sweden and I decided to go on holiday together, hire a red car, drive it to Lapland and eat marshmallows around a campfire while wearing bathing suits because it also happened to be very warm. It was totally random, very fun, and memorable. Remind me to show you my pictures of the trip.
I also considered the voice of reason – the reality check, if you will – and its role in the conversation. What if we did this, and this really awful undesired thing happened? Yeah, great point, and one to be aware of. That’s why I think the ability to allow yourself specific time to dream and not limit the ideas is important. Once you have all the ideas out of your mind – and into the blue sky – that’s then the chance to look at the risks involved, and the consequences of doing it one way over another, the possible benefits, the possible losses. What if I try this and it doesn’t work? What if I run out of money? What if nobody buys it? What if I do nothing? What if I partner or collaborate instead of going on my own – what would it give me and what would I lose? So while I encourage you to let yourself dream, I do also acknowledge that there might then be choices to be made, depending on the potential costs and gains. But they would be choices based on having explored all the options, even ones that you haven’t yet thought of as being possible yet. I also definitely encourage everyone to consult international travel advisory warnings before you book your next vacation.
After dropping the kids off at school, I was then mulling over the fun of “What if?” and thinking about that beautiful sky, and that wacky game we’d played if only for 5 or 6 minutes of an otherwise ordinary morning. As I can sometimes do, I then asked myself a question that immediately brought the sting of tears to my eyes. “What if…this was it…?”
I’m not planning on anything dramatic, and I certainly see my approaching 40th birthday this year as more of a mid-life “awakening” than a “crisis”. I’m hopeful that at some point soon I could ask myself a question like that one and not have to run for the nearest box of tissues, but to me it sums up the conundrum of having dreams and goals, and being inspired to do more, and also being very aware of the present moment as the only thing we have. I asked myself about my morning: had I told my family I love them, had I acted in a way that I would want to be remembered, had I admired the beauty around me, had I been kind, and patient, and loving? Fortunately, today, the answer was yes. On not every morning could I have been so certain about the answers. But it reminded me about having clarity on what’s important, for me, and how well I’m doing at taking care of the seemingly-small important things, that actually when added together, create the big important things.