The World on a String

Inspiration is ubiquitous. It takes on many forms. It camouflages itself among the mundane and conceals itself behind obstacles. However, it surrounds us, and those of us who access it can find the drive to achieve even the impossible.

Meet Philippe Petit. Occupation: Tight rope walker. If you’ve watched Man On Wire or read any literature related to it, his name might sound familiar. On August 7, 1974, he stepped onto a steel cable anchored on either side of the Twin Towers in Manhattan. He and a team of others had disguised themselves as businessmen and janitorial staff to enter the building the night before in order to set up the cables. As Philippe walked across, the sidewalks below were teeming with people who were awestruck by the sight of a man crossing the wire 1,368 feet above ground (the Twin Towers were the highest in the world at the time). Months of planning, a handful of broken laws, and some teeth-clenching close calls led to one definitive artistic moment shared by the lucky sum of people watching from below, around, and above. Those who witnessed it were humbled by the notion that they may never see anything quite like this in their lives ever again.

What struck me most about this story was not the death-defying feat that Philippe performed but rather Philippe himself. From the moment he came upon the article about the Twin Towers’ construction, he forged an immediate commitment to his dream to walk between them. With a proclivity for innovation and a deep-seated passion for his craft, he was able to share his vision with a team of others who helped him see it through. Now that’s salesmanship.

I recently read in The Disney Way that Walt Disney cashed in on his life insurance in order to invest in the development of Disneyland in Orange County, California. His financially conservative brother and business partner Roy Disney clenched his jaw as Walt pushed forward. Regardless, Walt remained riveted to his dream. Today, as we know, Disney is the largest corporate empire in the world.

What is it about prodigies like Disney and Petit that caused them to hold fast to a dream that at one point must have seemed desperate? A dream that must have appeared outright insane? What was it about them that drew in others for the ride and, in the process, convinced them to attempt the untried?

We’re raised, for the most part, to differentiate what is tangible from what is inconceivable. Under the influence of reason, we filter the feasible from the futile. But why? Isn’t it up to us to define what is achievable and what is not? The spirit of adventure that is so alive in us as children predictably fizzles out by the time we’ve become full-fledged adults. There is no greater loss than that of this spirit. Both Philippe and Walt took risks that may not have seemed to be worth the cost at the moment, but their persistence and inner motivation pushed them onward.

When our creativity is hampered and our worries overrule our instincts, we automatically scale down our dreams. Not only is this dangerous, but it also a betrayal of the best of ourselves.

On a tour of the Magical Kingdom, one guest commented to a senior tour guide, “Too bad Walt Disney never lived to see his dreams come to actualization.”

The tour guide, well-versed in company history and hallmarks, responded, “But he did see it! That’s why it’s here in the first place.”

Upon his descent from the Twin Towers (and after his arrest), the question people wanted to ask Philippe Petit most was, “Why?” Why did he do it? Why did he tight rope walk across the towers and risk his life in the process? His only answer was that there is no why. He simply wanted to.

The French like to say, “L’art pour l’art.” Art for art’s sake. Do whatever you desire because you desire it. But most importantly, desire it! Hone your passions. Cultivate them. Do not be stymied by “what if’s” or “why’s.” If you want to, you will. Let’s not let life get the best of us. Instead, let us project the best of ourselves. You might not need to lay the groundwork for a corporate empire or balance your life on a tightrope miles above, but you can start with not giving up on what you love and want, and most especially not giving up on yourself.

Soundtrack of the day:

Eric Satie – Gnossienne No. 1

Eric Satie – Gymnopodie No. 1

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