Thirty-four years later, the center and I are both still growing, but in a much larger and more sophisticated facility.
Today, Manchester Bidwell comprises three separate buildings covering 163,000 square feet, with 150 people on staff and some 1,200 students passing through our doors each year, not counting the 2,500 young people served by the programs we operate in public school classrooms as a cooperative venture with the Pittsburgh school district.
Running such a complex organization requires a pretty high level of organizational expertise, and today I feel very comfortable wearing the hat of CEO. But 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.
What I wanted those Harvard grad students to understand, what I want everyone who reads this book to embrace, are the simple principles that have guided my life and enabled my success: that 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.
The story I have to share with you is the story of the pursuit of one unrealistic, impractical, outrageous dream after another, and the remarkable consistency with which those dreams have come true. That didn’t happen by magic. It happened because 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.
To put it in simplest terms, I left the door open to possibility and, more often than not, opportunity showed its face. They gave me a genius award for thinking like that, but it’s nothing any clear-thinking person can’t manage. 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. That’s the essential lesson of my life and of this book: that each of us can achieve the “impossible” in our lives.
I want everyone who comes to this book, no matter what their age or accomplishments or the circumstances of their lives, to rethink their assumptions about what is and isn’t possible in their lives, and to convince themselves that they have not only the right but also the responsibility, and the capacity, to dream big and to make those dreams come true.