Today is January 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “How often do you believe the impossible is possible?” Those that navigate the chaos often show others what is possible. Music director Kurt Masur and award-winning actor Ali Stroker are two such examples. Kurt Masur, the music director emeritus of the New York Philharmonic was born in Brieg in the Silesian region of Germany (now Brzeg, Poland). His father was an engineer, and, at his pragmatic insistence, young Kurt studied to become an electrician while also studying music, training as a pianist, organist, cellist, and percussionist.
Wanting to make the field his calling, he entered the National Music School in Breslau. Unfortunately, by the time he was 16, an inoperable tendon injury in his right hand had made performing impossible, and he chose to concentrate on conducting. As a result of the hand condition, Masur conducted without a baton throughout his career. As Masur recalled in an interview it was during this time in his early life that he said to himself “I have to be a conductor. I have to make music otherwise I die.”
Called "one of the last old-style maestros" he directed many of the principal orchestras of his era. He had a long career as the Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and served as music director of the New York Philharmonic. As Margalit Fox wrote in a New York Times obituary December 19, 2015 “If Mr. Masur was considered autocratic at times, he was not-at least by the standards of his august profession-considered egomaniacal. In interviews over the years, he strove to deflect attention from himself and onto the art form. He told the Times in 1991‘I don’t want to be called a ‘wonder. The wonder is the music.’”
For those who will tell you that conducting an orchestra without a baton is impossible, just remind them that Masur already did it! Likewise, for those that would have you believe it is impossible to become a Broadway actor who is wheelchair bound, remind them of Ali Stroker.
Stroker is the first actor in a wheelchair to earn a degree from the New York University Tisch Drama Department. She is the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage and the first actor in a wheelchair to be nominated for a Tony Award. She would eventually win the 2019 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in Oklahoma. Due to a car accident at two years of age, Stroker has dedicated her life to help people see what is possible. "Seeing somebody who is disabled, or differently abled on stage, I think, allows people to see this possibility.”
When she was 7, a 12-year-old neighbor girl, Rachel Antonoff, returned from theater camp to declare that she was going to direct a backyard production of “Annie,” with Ms. Stroker as the star. And everything changed. In an interview with Michael Paulson, of The New York Times published June 12, 2019 Stroker reflected upon that first time on stage and said: “When I got on stage, it was the first time that I felt powerful.” Paulson commented that “to her surprise, she has been crying, a lot, since Sunday (winning the Tony Award), still overwhelmed by a moment that barely seemed possible.” Indeed, for someone in a wheelchair to be in a Broadway production, let alone in a leading role and winning a Tony Award, was previously thought impossible.
As Stroker noted “I was used to people staring at me, but they were staring at me because I was in a wheelchair. And when I was on stage, they were staring at me because I was the star.” Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well often do the impossible. They believe in themselves. They find a way. They surround themselves with others who believe the impossible is possible. They make no excuses. They commit to translating one dream after another into reality.
St. Francis of Assisi noted "Start by doing what is necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you're doing the impossible." Both Masur and Stroker did what was necessary, then what was possible and ended up doing the impossible by conducting an orchestra without a baton and becoming an award-winning actor on Broadway. It is important to remember that people who navigate the chaos know how important it is to believe that the impossible is indeed possible.
Even if they have no idea how they are going to make it happen they start and find a way to move forward one step at a time. Google co-founder Larry Page talked about this when he gave a speech describing how he had a "healthy disregard for the impossible and wrote down the things I thought were impossible but wanted to accomplish anyway. We were close to not starting Google. Do not be afraid of failure. Instead, have the goal to fail a lot and eventually you will succeed. Take a little more risk in life and if you do it often enough it will pay off.” Others like Priya Kumar have highlighted this oft found thread of having a healthy disregard for the impossible common among those who navigated the chaos and practiced the art of living well.
In a January 14, 2016 LinkedIn post author Priya Kumar wrote “I have had the good fortune of meeting some legendary personalities in my career as a motivational speaker and an author. The one common thread that I have found among them all is that they have all had a healthy disregard for the impossible. People rose to greatness when they turned around the impossible and made it possible for every other person to follow. Greatness is within everyone’s reach. The journey starts out at ‘impossible’ and ends in glory at ‘possible.’”
Do you believe you can start with what is necessary, move on to what is possible to do the impossible?