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Nothing is impossible; just ask Neil Armstrong and Roger Bannister

Columnist Harvey Mackay says rather than think of "impossible," challenge boundaries and push yourself to be better, faster and smarter, and to get the results you want.

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According to a famous and almost certainly untrue story, sometime in the 19th century the director of the U.S. Patent Office advised the president to close the office, saying that everything that could be invented had been invented.

Was that ever wrong. The list of people with "crazy ideas" who made the impossible possible is endless.

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The four-minute mile is a given these days, but until recently it seemed to be an impossibility.

The experts had decided it was physiologically impossible for a human to run a mile in that short of a time. Among their theories: Our bone structure is all wrong. Our wind resistance is too great. Humans have inadequate lung power. There were a million reasons – until one day when one person proved the doctors, the trainers and the athletes all wrong.

In 1954, Roger Bannister showed the world that it could be done. In the three years that followed, 15 runners broke the four-minute mile once they realized it was possible.


The late Muhammad Ali said: "Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

History is full of examples of the illusion of impossibility. Neil Armstrong shocked the world by becoming the first person to walk on the moon. Now we're talking about people landing on Mars, and business tycoons are launching civilians into space.

Remember "The Jetsons" TV cartoon from the early '60s? The futuristic family had video conference calls, just as we do now. Their robotic maid, Rosie, has morphed into the Roomba vacuums. We aren't quite to hovercraft-style transportation yet, but with self-driving cars coming on the market, we can only guess what comes next.

How large was your first cellphone? Mine was the size of a brick, and I could only talk for 30 minutes before having to recharge it. And it was only good for making phone calls. Back in the 1980s no one could have imagined the capabilities of today's smartphones.

Being in the envelope manufacturing business, I love the term "pushing the envelope." To me it means challenging boundaries and pushing yourself to maximize your advantage to be better, faster and smarter, and to get the results you want, in business and in life. It makes the seemingly impossible more within your reach.

Look at some of the top inventions from the 20th century and think of how they changed the way we live and work – electrification, automobiles, airplanes, water supply, electronics, radio and television, agricultural mechanization, computers, telephones, interstate highways, imaging, health technologies, petrochemical technologies, lasers and fiber optics, nuclear technologies, high-performance materials, and the internet.

The internet is the most powerful force in the world today. It took radio 38 years to get to 50 million listeners. It took television 13 years to get to 50 million viewers. It took the internet only four short years to get to 50 million users.

My good friend, the Hall-of-Fame college football coach Lou Holtz, said, "Virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude."


People continue to think bigger and bigger. I suspect that's why there were more than 3.3 million patents in force in 2020 alone. And I'm quite certain there will be just as many more to come.

My college history major taught me to be in awe of the pioneers of society and how they defied the naysayers to turn the impossible into "I'm possible."

Mackay's Moral: Impossible is just an opinion.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at www.harveymackay.com , by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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