April 1 – Expanding Horizons

“Your greatness is measured by your horizons.” (Michelangelo)

The distance to the horizon for a six-foot tall person like myself is about 3 miles. To be able to see great distances I must elevate myself to higher ground. The higher I go, the farther I can see, and the greater distance to my horizon.

Those distances assume that there is no obstruction in front of me. If I am standing behind a rock, then I can see no farther than that rock. If the rock is sufficiently tall, it will dominate my view even as I try to climb higher.

Greatness is tied to vision in many ways. Greatly successful people become so because they can see things other cannot. Innovators like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were able to envision far into the future for their products. They envisioned uses for their products that current technology could not support. They didn’t let the limitations of the present get in the way of dreaming their own world, and then making that dream happen.

Too often I find myself caught in the “problem of the day”. I spend far too much of my time managing the giant rock in front of me, and precious little time trying to raise myself above it to see the larger landscape. My 3 mile horizon is shrunken down to  mere inches as I struggle to overcome the obstacle in front of me, only to find that once I solve that one, another one just like it lurks behind.

Many of the people whom I have marveled at in the professional world had the long term vision of Ford and Jobs. They saw greatness beyond their current problems, and raised themselves up to be able to be above the rocks in their paths. Armed with that vision, and a lot of courage, they achieved greatness.

As it turns out, I have a fear of heights, I have since childhood. Put a bit of water under that height, as would be the case on a bridge, and I can go to pieces. I remember distinctly the first time I crossed the Mackinac Bridge. I was in a two-vehicle caravan heading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My oldest daughter was with me, while my wife and other 3 children were in the car behind. I remember as we drove over the bridge my daughter being awestruck at the great beauty of the Sraights of Mackinac. It was a beautiful day, and the sun made the waters of lakes Michigan and Huron sparkle amid the vast blue. I know this, because she told me.

All I saw on that entire 7 mile crossing was the truck directly in front of me. My eyes stayed fixed on that truck, my fingers were clamped tightly to the steering wheel while my butt was clamped tightly to the seat. Although I have gotten better about making that crossing, I still do so with my eyes fixed directly in front of me, not venturing to turn my head and see the abundant beauty around. I am fixated on solving the “problem” at hand, namely to get safely to the other side.

Perhaps this is a metaphor for my life. As a project manager I have been thoroughly trained to be a problem solver, and risk manager. My job is to help the team blow up the boulders in front of them, and continue to plod their way through to deliver success. Even in my home life, I approach things with my lists and plans. I rarely take the time to dream of the future, as I am stuck working in the present. My metaphorical fear of heights keeps me from ever being able to rise above the muck to see a great horizon.

There is plenty of room in the world for people like me. Henry Ford and Steve Jobs each had legions of engineers working for them whose role was to do just what I do – to clear the path and march the projects forward. Without people like me, the vision remains but a dream. But, am I capable of more? Am I capable of overcoming my fears and seeing great distances?

As spring finally makes its way into my life, it seems there is a good opportunity to look for places to put aside my fears and rise up. Perhaps after doing that I will envision a dream for myself that I can then use my exceptional skills of problem solving to make a reality.

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