Photo by Carey Nieuwhof

When I was in high school, I remember more than a few conversations with older adults that contained the words “when you get in into the real world…” Those conversations always frustrated me, and to some extent they still do.

It seems to me that most of us who are somewhere past our 25th birthdays spend at least some time and energy trying to convince people who haven’t hit their 25th birthday yet that their dreams aren’t realistic. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a role for realism.

But last year, I couldn’t help but imagine…what if…?  We were in Orlando and spent two days at Disney.  I remember (as a dad) thinking about how much the day in the park cost, and at the same time how much my family loved it.  And as I looked around I noticed we weren’t alone.  Even though it was chilly that week, tens of thousands flooded the park daily.

I imagined Walt Disney himself standing on hundreds of acres of swamp land outside of Orlando in the 1960s (and a decade earlier, in California) and imagining a park where families would come to make dreams come true.  I mean, no one had really done a theme park. Would people come?  Would thousands of people come, day after day and spend hundreds of dollars, decade after decade? Really?  Where was the value?  What would they take away from the day except a shared experience, some memories and some pictures?

Almost forty years after the park was opened, I was astounded that his vision actually worked. I mean – seriously.  I think I would have told him he had lost his mind and should stick to making films.

I wonder what I’ve done to stifle the dreams of my children that should have been let loose. Even if the idea doesn’t land where a nine year old thinks it’s going to land, it might still end up producing something remarkable. I wonder if when we use certain phrases, we stifle what could be:

  • That will never happen.
  • How would you ever make a living at that?
  • People just don’t do that.
  • That’s impossible.
  • It’s just so unrealistic.

Parents have a responsibility to help our kids flourish in the real world. But we should never do it in a way that limits their potential to transform the real world. Innovation transforms reality…and innovation is hatched in the imagination.  The real innovators dreamed about what wasn’t until it became what is.

What if Walt Disney were your son? What would you have said?  In light of all this, what might you say now?