by Lex Gillette
One of my first jobs was as a DJ for a local radio station back in North Carolina. I was one of the youngest people to ever get on the airwaves. I was around 10 years old or so, and my 12-year-old cousin, Calvin, also known in our family as Chubby, was my co-host.
We played all the top hip-hop and R&B hits from artists like Boyz II Men, Notorious BIG, 112, Outkast, Mariah Carey, and Snoop Dogg. We even had prize packs for callers who would ring in to answer music trivia. With all this activity, we had to have commercial breaks to pay the bills, but we did our best to keep those short so we wouldn’t lose listeners.
It’s funny how two young kids could take on this type of job. Well, we weren’t technically employed. We weren’t even being broadcast anywhere, but you couldn’t tell us any different. We had an old tape player, some blank cassette tapes, and we would record our favorite songs from the radio.
If you grew up in the 90s, you probably know about tape players. You press the two buttons together and the machine would record. In between our recorded songs, Chubby and I cracked jokes or pretended to be callers dialing in for music trivia. To us, we were the best voices on the air. Talk about good times. Imagination is bliss.
A great imagination allows you to go places and do things without limits or expectations. At the time, Chubby and I were probably doing something that most people wouldn’t expect. Our imaginations ran wild.
You have no idea of what is possible until you allow imagination to take the reins. As we get older, most people begin to move away from imagination. “Why indulge in something that isn’t real?” they ask. “That’s not realistic,” they add. “You’re dreaming,” they say, swatting away your imagination with the palm of their hand.
To those naysayers, I’d like to say, “That’s right. Chubby and I were dreaming big.”
My years of being a DJ did so much for me. It fostered my love of music. It gave me time with my older cousin. It fed my confidence, gave me a stage, and let me know I could craft my imagination into something real.
Imagination colors the experiences of our everyday lives, but it also gives us the vision for change and innovation. I’d loved to have been the person who thought:
- “Hey, this tape machine is big and bulky. How about we think of an option that is smaller that can produce the same outcome?”
- “Hey, this cassette tape is only 60 minutes long. How about we figure out an option that extends our recording time?”
- Or better yet, “Hey, let’s figure out a way to get our radio show from the cassette tape onto the computer.”
(If I had figured that last one out, I would have been invited to give my TED Talk ten years earlier!)
I understand there are many, many moments when we need to think realistically. However, the realm of non-reality reintroduces us to a land where imagination is the spoken language and creativity is currency.
Muhammad Ali once said, “The man who has no imagination has no wings.” It’s okay to step away from reality and bask in the rays of imagination. To move forward and redefine the possible, you need to spend some time in your imagination. That is where ideas are born. That is where you find your wings.
You can go places and do things no one would expect. Just cling to imagination. Now fly!
Lex Gillette is a professional keynote speaker, 4x Paralympic Medalist, and 3x Long Jump World Champion who is currently training to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. He has been wowing audiences of all sizes with his athletic gift since 2004, and he has been inspiring audiences on the corporate stage since 2013. His ultimate goal is to teach others to look past their current reality and challenge them to see further than they ever thought possible.
Photo credit: Lex with arms spread by by Alex Ingram, Art is Being.