Friday, July 17, 2009
Making the Impossible Possible - Bill Strickland
http://www.bill-strickland.org/ - I received a recommendation for this book a couple years ago after someone read my review of Three Cups of Tea. For some reason, I found the title and the cover of this book off-putting. It made me assume that it would be a self-help book full of instructions on how to lead a better more productive life. But, eventually I brought myself around to it, and I am so glad that I did. Bill Strickland grew up in a lower-class neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. His childhood had all the markings of the disadvantaged - an often absent and perhaps alcoholic father, little money, and negative influences around each corner. Strickland did, however, have a strong and determined mother, and her influence on her son is obvious throughout this book. In high school, Strickland meets an art teacher who teaches him how to throw clay pots - an artisitic endeavor that absolutely enchants Strickland. A couple years later, at the age of 19, Strickland becomes the teacher - attempting to bring the magic and hope he found through art to other kids in his neighborhood. His attempts are not immediately successful - and he runs into roadblocks left and right - he lacks funding, and he finds it difficult to convince others to support his endeavor - both financially and by coming to his center. But, as the decades go by, Strickland builds a learning center that services both youth and adults - and not just in ceramics, but in kinds of artistic disciplines and job training. He surrounds himself with beauty to teach the people he works with that they deserve to live such a life. While telling his story, Strickland does adopt a lot of self-help language - about never giving up, believing in your dreams, etc. But, while sometimes repetitive, it is not condescending or annoying. Rather, Strickland often speaks in concrete terms. I appreciated how he shared his through process - how he came up with new ideas and how he went about raising money for his projects. He shared the times he failed, and was open about his own bout with alcohol and apparent depression. He gives ample credit to the corporate leaders who support him and admits where he went wrong with certain ideas. Strickland's project is inspiring. It makes me wish there were centers like his in every city - and I was happy to learn at the end of the book that there is a similar one in San Francisco called BAYCAT (www.baycat.org). But, the message of Strickland's book is not to go out and start one of these centers, but rather to find the thing in life that you are passionate about and to pursue it. It's a simple message, but one that we obviously forget as we get older and life seems to get in the way. But, Strickland's words and examples go a long way to showing that this is the only way we can lead a meaningful and productive life, and it's a message I think we could all stand to hear over and over again until we get it right.