"Make the Impossible Possible"

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I had the good pleasure of reading Make the Impossible Possible, the inspiring, true story of Bill Strickland, founder and CEO of Manchester Bidwell, a community arts-education and training center located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Mission of Bill Strickland and Manchester Bidwell

Bill Strickland, who started Manchester Bidwell in the late 1960's with the simple intention of giving some kids living in poverty a chance to work with clay and pottery, saw it as his overall mission to turn people's lives around and build an organization dedicated to shaping and guiding the human spirit. He is a guy who believes that "art and creative experience are stronger than fear and ignorance."

"I'll never forget that Manchester Bidwell wasn't crafted out of corporate vision or business savvy. It happened because a clueless nineteen-year-old  trusted his unspoken intuition that the human spirit is remarkably resilient, and that even in damaged and disadvantaged lives, and in circumstances where the odds seem hopelessly stacked against you, there is endless potential waiting to be freed.

From the start, I loved the work I was doing, the feeling it gave me to help others open their eyes and see the possibilities before them. But I had no long-term vision for the Craftsmen's Guild. I saw it as a stopgap measure, a life raft for those kids. I certainly never thought it would lead to my life's work." - Bill Strickland

To carry out his mission, Bill Strickland and his Manchester Bidwell center offers two distinct educational programs:

  • Manchester Craftsmen's Guild - offers rigorous after-school courses in the arts aimed at lighting a creative fire in at-risk students to inspire them to stay in school
  • Bidwell Training Center - offers state-of-the-art job-training programs aimed at giving "poor and otherwise disadvantaged adults the skills and direction they need to land meaningful, good-paying jobs that provide the foundation for a much brighter future."

The Manchester Bidwell Recipe for Success

Today, Manchester Bidwell has a staff of 150 people serving 1200 students annually, plus an additional 2500 students through programs with local school districts in Pittsburgh.

The recipe for success at Manchester Bidwell is simple:

  • high standards
  • stiff challenges
  • a chance to develop unexplored talents
  • and a message that many of these students haven't heard before: "No matter how difficult the circumstances of their lives may be...they have the right, and the potential, to expect to live rich and satisfying lives."

The Wisdom of Bill Strickland

What I really enjoyed in reading Make the Impossible Possible was the deep insights and wisdom that Bill Strickland offers based on his life experiences, including over 34 years as the head of Manchester Bidwell.

Here is a sample of some of my favorite quotes and wisdom from Bill Strickland:

On potential:
"All of us have the potential to make our dreams come true, and that one of the greatest obstacles blocking us from realizing that potential is that we believe, or are told, the things we want most passionately are impractical, unrealistic, or somehow beyond our reach."

"Each one of us, no matter who our parents are, where we live, how much education we have, or what kinds of connections, abilities, and opportunities life may have offered us, has the potential to shape our lives in ways that will bring us the meaning, purpose, and success we long for. Each of us can achieve the 'impossible' in our lives."

On conventional wisdom:
"I refused to be limited by what conventional wisdom, or other people, or the cautious little voice we all have in our heads told me I couldn't do. I haven't accomplished everything I set out to do, but I've accomplished a whole lot more than I would have if I'd let myself be boxed in by common sense and 'sensible' expectations."

On vision and dreams:
"Trust your passion, identify your dreams, and find the courage to share them with others, no matter how many times they call you a fool. If your vision has merit, no matter how impossible it may seem, someone will recognize it and help you make it come true. Furthermore, experience has taught me that when one dream comes true, others soon follow."

On jazz and life:
"Even though I never played a note of music in my life, I think I know what jazz performers feel. They don't play from a formula or from any conventional wisdom; they take risks, they stretch, they explore, always looking for new opportunities, and always trusting their talents and instincts to bring them home. I believe that life demands the same ability to trust and improvise."

On living an authentic life:
"A authentic life is not something we pursue, it's something that must be created out of the passion and values that matter to us each and every day. 'Now' is the only solid reality you can count on. Now is when you build a future that matters."

On success:
"Real success, genuine success, can't be chosen and chased down. You assemble it, moment by moment, out of the dreams you choose to follow and the values and passions you share. It's not something you have a choice in -- it's a process that occurs, whether we pay attention or not."

"Don't waste precious time chasing someone else's definition of success. Live your life with purpose now. Look for the things that inspire you, make you feel most alive, and trust in those things to shape your future. They will give you all your heart could ever wish for."

Make the Impossible Possible

Bill Strickland wrote Make the Impossible Possible with the hope and purpose of helping each reader realize "that you can overcome all obstacles that stand in your path and live the rich, fulfilling, and meaningfully successful life that all of us, if we are true to our hearts, dream of."

I found Bill Strickland to be an inspiration and a beacon showing us the way to truly make the impossible possible in each of our own lives.

How cool is that?

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