One of the most important things I’ve learned in my first year of blogging about my 3 month language missions has probably been discovering that achieving the “impossible” is actually easy. It turns out that several people that I’ve come across or read about have achieved the impossible several times over each. Taking their lead, so have I! Today I’ll share how.
What is “impossible”?
Looking at this blog it’s easy to come across a few examples of impossible tasks. First, you see the title “Fluent in 3 months” – bah, that’s ridiculous! Impossible! Then you see the missions I aim for: fluency, no accent, super hard exams, getting by in a language in one weekend. Impossible!
I know these are “impossible” because lots of people are generous enough to remind me of it so regularly by downer comments here, or on forums or other blogs. I’ve seen the word impossible more in the last year (directed at me) than I had in my entire life beforehand.
And I love it. Makes it so much more fun when I prove them wrong!
You see, it’s all a simple misunderstanding in definition. These poor people don’t seem to have any idea what the word impossible really means. I like to be clear about my definitions (why I defined what fluency means so there would be no confusion), so I’ll refer to the good old Oxford dictionary once again. The definition is:
- adjective 1 not able to occur, exist, or be done. 2 very difficult to deal with.
When you look at the core of the word, the first meaning is the most likely. It’s the opposite of possible and can not happen. That’s “not” under any circumstances, not “not” as in no honey, your arse does not look fat in that. But eternal pessimists seem to have decided that “very difficult” and impossible should become synonyms of one another.
This means we are talking about different things ultimately. I agree that ambitious tasks can be very challenging, but impossible?
There are some things that I can be pretty confident about being impossible. The monsters on the TV aren’t going to step outside of the screen and eat me. That’s impossible (a TV is a cathode ray tube, not a portal to another dimension). A talking snake is impossible (it doesn’t have the vocal chords for it, or the cerebral capacity for human communication). But in most cases, people use the word as a lazy exaggeration. Getting the ideal job you’ve been dreaming about, travelling, speaking another language in a short time, and many other things are not impossible.
When you look at it logically, my view of impossible is more realistic than theirs. Usually when we think of “realistic” we imagine down-to-earth. But I am being more true to the meaning of the word, so ultimately I am being more realistic. You are welcome to say that certain objectives are improbable or very hard, but unless you give me specific laws of physics that say I can’t do it, then get your definitions straight!
Impossible happens every day
One up side to all of this, is that as soon as someone throws down the gauntlet and uses that silly i word, it means that if you do achieve it, you have achieved the impossible! The real secret to achieving the impossible is trying, trying hard and often and ignoring discouragement from others with an unrealistic understanding of the limitations of the universe we live in.
There are so many examples. Let’s take travel: Want to backpack the world for years and support yourself from a blog? Impossible, yet Nomadic Matt does it. Want to visit every country in the world? Chris Guillebeau is doing it. Or maybe you want to work as a volunteer in several different countries and think it’ll never happen? Kirsty is doing it. What about travelling long-term as a family? Also possible. Or travelling with an infant when you are in debt? Adam Baker has done it. All “impossible” and yet all actually very possible when people really try to find a way to make it work rather than focusing on all the excuses.
That’s just travel. Think you’re too young or too old to achieve your dreams? Any reason you can think of that is holding you back, someone else has gotten around the same issue. And if nobody in the history of the world has done it yet, what’s stopping you from being the first?
Way more “impossible” hurdles have been overcome by people who want to live their dreams, for almost any situation you can think of. Helen Keller wrote 12 books, was a lecturer, met Mark Twain and every US president in her lifetime, and yet she was deaf and blind from the age of 18 months. Her story is so inspirational to me that I really don’t think anything is impossible if you put your mind to it. You might think that I’ve seen too many Disney movies when I say that, but I think the pessimists are the unrealistic ones.
Yes, sometimes people have advantages that you don’t have, but instead of complaining about how it’s easier for them, you can find your path to living your dreams.
Never use the ‘F’ word!
The main thing that will prevent you from achieving your dreams is focusing on and overusing the F word. No, I don’t mean fuck (seriously? Yawn…).
There is a word way more offensive and repugnant than that ever can be. In fact, I refuse to write it here. To f*** is the opposite of to succeed (or the noun f*$#)&* is the opposite of success) and people who focus on this will ultimately achieve it.
Since pessimists are so generous with their definitions of impossible, I’m going to do the opposite and define f*$#)&* right out of existence. I simply don’t believe in it. This very definition helps me and many others achieve the impossible. There is no such thing as a f*$#)&*! When you focus on how you are to achieve the task, and actually work on it rather than get lost in the reasons why you can’t, the idea of “impossible” itself becomes impossible.
For example, in just over a week I am going to be sitting one of hardest language exams for non-natives in the world. Quite a lot of people love to remind me how it’s impossible and how I’ll definitely f***.
I feel sad for them! They see the world of possibilities as binary. 0 or 1, right or wrong, black or white, f*** or don’t f***. I don’t. My glass is half full. Those following the blog long enough know that I rate my successes in scales. I’m either successful, very successful or extremely successful. I will aim for and work towards extremely successful for the entire duration of the mission, even if I “only” end up at very successful. This whole attitude helps me achieve more, way beyond simple redefinitions of words to get around not achieving enough.
For example, I wanted to pass myself off as a Brazilian for 2 minutes, and have it come naturally all the time. Aiming so high meant that I had to make lots of progress quickly. I didn’t exactly achieve what I had initially aimed for. Instead I was able to convince several Brazilians in social situations that I was a Carioca for up to 30 seconds, by reducing my accent to be subtle enough (albeit not zero) and working hard on the important 93% aspect of non-verbal communication too so that I would be convincing enough for those 30 seconds. Did I f***? No way! 30 seconds is a long time to be in a conversation and pass off as a local, even if I had to be very focused to do so. As far as I’m concerned that was an amazing achievement, even if it wasn’t the initial goal. That mission was a success! The same happened with my Czech mission. I wanted to speak fluently in 3 months, but instead I was speaking quite well after 2 months (when I had to stop).
These were not 100% successes, but were definitely not the exact opposite either.
There are only successes and partial successes
In my next week’s very very hard exam, I only see two possible outcomes, none of which start with an f.
I will either do really well in this exam (since I have been working very hard, studying despite disliking it so much, and have some interesting language exam hacks up my sleeve – not cheating mind you), have dramatically improved my German in an incredibly short time and gained a new appreciation for study techniques, as well as built up fantastic anticipation for the summer… or I will achieve all of that and the Goethe Institut will also reward me with a C2 Diploma.
The second option would be way cooler, and likely involve lots of me screaming it from Berlin rooftops to the world, but you can bet that I won’t consider these 3 months “wasted” if a German exam correcter happens to disagree with me. That can never take away the leaps of progress I’ve made in this short time.
The only way to achieve the impossible is to try “impossible” tasks. Here, I mean impossible as in the lazy pessimistic definition, i.e. “hard”. After this, I’ll take a few weeks to recuperate… and then I’m going to have an even harder 3-month objective, whether this mission is an 80% success, or a 100% success. The more I try, the more I will succeed.
Up until I started travelling and meeting so many people with stories that would inspire me to aim higher, instead of something that I know I will definitely achieve (i.e. not impossible by anyone’s definition), I have to say that my life was not particularly interesting or fulfilling. The last 7 years have been filled with full and partial successes, because I keep trying. I learn from the partial successes and they ultimately lead to “impossible” tasks being achieved.
So, what’s stopping you from achieving the impossible? Cast away that silly word, and just make it happen. Work hard, work often and stay positive and you’ll surprise yourself by how much you can do.
And if you still think something is impossible, then please don’t interrupt the person actually doing it
Thoughts? Comments? Hit me in the box below!
Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!
If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.
- How to make time if you are too busy (Very similar post)
- Does drinking help you speak a foreign language? (Very similar post)
- Do you need to be rich to travel the world? (Very similar post)
- How to survive as a travelling vegetarian (Very similar post)
- Don't be scared to meet new people (Very similar post)
- Are you problem minded or solution minded? My 1.5 month level of Chinese [video] (RANDOM - Very similar post)