“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine. And, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
– Trevor Noah, comedian and Host, The Daily Show
In his book Born a Crime, Trevor Noah weaves together the tale of his childhood and coming of age in South Africa – pre- and post-apartheid. His indomitable mother is the central figure throughout the autobiography. And, there’s a moment when he describes how she raised him to look beyond the boundaries of his life; to see past the constraints of his environment.
In essence, she helped him develop an incredible visioning muscle. Now, it becomes clear that it takes him awhile to exercise that muscle to it’s full potential. He remained happily carefree within the limitations of the suburban and township communities where he lived and pursued not altogether legal entrepreneurial ventures. And even as Noah shares his experiences and escapades, anyone can see that he’s aware of the opportunities on which he’s taking a pass. But it’s also obvious that his friends, partners and employees had little, if any, idea of the things the world has to offer beyond the borders of their lives and communities.
Thanks to his mother’s mentoring, Noah possessed a competitive advantage that comes from the intersection of knowledge, access and opportunity. He knew there was much more available and how to figure out a path to that future. He had exposure to the systems, institutions and communities where those opportunities lie in wait. And, he most definitely understood how to identify opportunities. Even more than the skills he’d developed, Noah had the talent to leverage those opportunities – but his talent wouldn’t necessarily have mattered without knowledge and access.
These two attributes form a framework that facilitates growth and serves as a catalyst for self-actualization. We gain strength and confidence. We build that visioning muscle through the lessons and information from the people around us – our families, friends, communities and institutions. And as we become leaders, the challenge we must all meet is to help those we manage and mentor look beyond their immediate boundaries. Just as Noah’s mother did for him. What he learned from her has taken him to the other side of the world on an amazing adventure.
Are you dreaming big enough? Are you helping someone else learn the many places their imagination can take them? Listen to the passage in Born a Crime via Audible.