The Official Blog of Mike Rayburn

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The Biggest Dream-Killing Phrase Ever Spoken. Don’t.

My Least Favorite Word and Why You Should NOT Use It

Starting a fire. The wheel. The Pyramids. Hannibal’s victory over the Romans. Harnessing electricity. The Hoover Dam. The return of a crippled Apollo 13. The 1980 Miracle on Ice. The personal computer. The internet.

They all have one exclusionary quality in common: Not one of them was realistic.

I’ve come to truly dislike that word: Realistic. “Be realistic” is one of the biggest dream-killing phrases every uttered. It usually means “temper your aspirations,” “think smaller,” “you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.”

But if you dig deeper “Be realistic” is a reflection on the one using it. What it really means is, “I let fear rule and ruin my life, you should too, so I don’t feel so bad about myself.”

Name one major invention, accomplishment or outstanding victory that was “realistic.” Just one. 

OK, then I’m right.

Mike Rayburn holding American flag
Summiting Black Mountain in Nevada

I have never known a pessimist with balls enough to admit being a pessimist. They all call themselves “realists.” “I’m not being pessimistic, I’m just being realistic.”

Here’s the insidious part: Pessimists are right more often than optimists. With each accurate doomsday prediction they claim the glory of their snarky, prophetic skills.

But what a cop out! The reason pessimists are right more often than optimists is that everyone – the successful and unsuccessful alike – fails more often than they succeed.

Interestingly, while optimists are wrong more often, they are almost always more successful than pessimists.

How many times, when the underdog wins, do you hear them say, “We knew we were going to lose, we were trying to be realistic, but somehow… we won?” No. Doesn’t happen.

Did you see the movie, “Remember The Titans?” It’s about racially torn TC Williams High School in northern Virginia in the early 1970’s. Well, I played high school football against TC Williams and coach Boone. My high school, Groveton, was in the movie. By the later 70’s TC Williams had become the behemoth, unbeatable powerhouse and usually won the state championship. Neighboring Groveton on the other hand was lucky to win one or two games per year.

Mike w/friends Charles Fields and Carl Jones in 2010, from the 1978 Groveton HS football team who beat TC Williams
Mike w/friends Charles Fields and Carl Jones in 2010, from the 1978 Groveton HS football team who beat TC Williams

My father was my football coach at Groveton. When we played TC in 1978 the newspapers said we would lose by 50 points. However, all that week of practice my Dad never let us accept the reality of our impending annihilation. I remember one of my teachers that day took me aside and asked, “Mike, do we really have any chance tonight?” I said, “No one believes this but I really think we can win.” Totally unrealistic.

Check the record books, in 1978, lowly Groveton beat Coach Boone and TC Williams, 9-0!!! They’d never been shut out and we did it! Thank God there were no realists on the Groveton sideline that night.

Virtuosos are wonderfully un-realistic about what is possible. If someone says your bold thinking is “unrealistic” it means you’re probably on the right path.

Please forward this to someone who needs to hear it!

Live Truly, Truly Live,


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