“There’s only one way out of a bad situation, and that’s to stop believing in it. Don’t make it real and it disappears.” — Dan Cavicchio, Gardens from the Sand: A Story About Looking for Answers and Finding Miracles

Joel was a realist. He prided himself in being practical and “down to earth.” He was very skeptical about new ideas and changes. “You’ll have to prove it to me. I’ll believe it when I see it,” he often said to his kids or team members. He believed that kids today were lazy, sloppy, and untrustworthy. Reading the newspaper after supper, he’d finish a story about some horrible crime or new violence with another comment on his pet theory that society was on a slippery slope of sin and destruction. At work, Joel often made cynical jokes about the stupidity of management and the direction they were trying to move the organization. In meetings, he was an “abominable no man” who shot down most new ideas. “Get your head out of the clouds,” he’d scornfully snap. Then he’d prick the idea bubble with a dart like, “that’s never been done before,” “they’d never go for that,” “you’re not living in the real world,” or “that’s impossible.”

Denise was a dreamer. She loved to explore possibilities and try out new ideas. Change was exciting because she saw it as renewal. It was a chance to “clean out yesterday’s dirt and cobwebs and start fresh.” Her friends and family (at least the less critical or jealous ones) often commented on how polite, responsible, and caring her kids were. This meshed with Denise’s belief that today’s kids are generally a little more mature and advanced than in her own younger years. Denise feels blessed to be living in such abundant and exciting times. Occasionally she’d clip an article or newspaper item on studies showing how prosperity, health, crime, and other indicators of society’s progress have been steadily improving through the decades. At work, Denise didn’t always agree with management decisions, but she tried to understand and support the direction they were taking the organization. In meetings, she was an idealist who tried to encourage the team toward breakthrough thinking. When the team started complaining or feeling overwhelmed by problems, she’d often say, “let’s not get stuck in the past,” “we’re bigger than this problem,” “let’s stretch our thinking,” or, “just imagine if we could…”

Who’s living in the “real world?” Of course, they both are. Joel and Denise are creating their own reality. They can both say, “see, I told you that would happen.” Denise is one of those rare leaders who recognize that everything we now take for granted in our daily lives was once a figment of some leader’s fertile imagination. When flight, telephones, automobiles, or computers were first proposed, like Joel, most people scoffed. They said these ideas were fanciful, impossible, silly, useless toys, or even deadly. Once these were in wide-spread use, people said, but of course, they are just logical extensions of some other technology or society’s evolution.

Joel is stuck in his reality rut. He’s so narrow minded he could see through a key hole with both eyes. He’s the type of person who will find a hair in his soup because he sits down and shakes his head until one falls in. Joel expects nothing and is rarely disappointed. He is the “blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be” that Ambrose Bierce defined as a cynic. He can’t see tomorrow’s possibilities just over the horizon beyond his reality rut because his head is down and focused on today’s problems. Research shows that his chances of sickness and disease, depression, relationship problems, career stagnation, parental challenges, and energy loss are much higher than Denise. He is creating the reality his vision is focused upon. The context of his values and purpose are creating the life he believes in.

We can see only what is. That’s getting stuck in reality ruts. They can too easily become a grave with the ends knocked out. We can get buried by our problems. Or we can see beyond what is to what could be. We can rise above our reality ruts to see the possibilities. The choice is ours.