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In the new year, shoot for the impossible

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 10:27 AM EST, Sat December 31, 2011
Egyptian protesters chant during a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Egyptian protesters chant during a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Josh Levs: In 2011, determined people chased the "impossible" and effected change
  • We also faced daily reminders of how badly new ideas are needed, he says
  • Levs: With resolutions, bigger, tougher tasks that require more commitment are better
  • Keep that in mind for your goals for 2012. The world could be counting on you, he says

Editor's note: Josh Levs has covered a wide range of issues for CNN and the CNN Wire, including politics, technology and the changing role of fatherhood. He is father to two young boys. This is his second column adapted from his TEDxTalk, "Breaking the System to Achieve the Impossible."

(CNN) -- Did 2011 feel like a whirlwind?

Any year can. But this year, the fast-paced, tumultuous changes in the world, against a backdrop of economic struggles at home, were a different story.

It was enough to leave anyone dizzy, as though we've been watching the Earth spin faster than ever on its axis. (For a walk down recent memory lane, watch the top quotes or apologies of 2011.)

But now, on the verge of a new year, it's time to take a step back and realize a powerful, central message that came through loud and clear in 2011: Determined people who chase the "impossible" can prove naysayers wrong and bring change beyond what nearly everyone imagined.

Josh Levs
Josh Levs

After protesters in Tunisia toppled their government, even many experts on the region did not foresee a domino effect. Many told me they were surprised by what followed.

No matter what lies ahead after the Arab Spring, millions around the world have come to believe that grassroots efforts can bring real change.

We also faced daily reminders of how badly new ideas, and new ways of operating as societies, are needed. With massive sums of debt threatening the stability of key economies worldwide, it became clearer than ever that restructuring and reform are vital to moving forward.

It's a call for visionaries. And we lost a huge one this year. Steve Jobs, who thought proverbially "outside the box" and changed the world. His death left millions thinking about what they dream of creating. Call it searching for their inner innovators.

The world needs big ideas. The ones that can help individual communities, entire societies or a big chunk of the 7 billion.

As we formulate New Year's resolutions, we're usually tempted to limit ourselves to typical goals -- losing 20 pounds, getting the financial house in order, finally learning that new skill. Those are all valuable. Unfortunately, they're also among the resolutions people most often break.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it's good news: The bigger, tougher tasks that require more commitment often have a better track record.

For powerful examples of people who resolved to achieve big goals and succeeded, look at the CNN Heroes.

These are individuals who took it on themselves to tackle huge problems, such as fighting poverty and lack of hygiene in their communities or standing up to gang violence. Our Hero of the Year, Robin Lim, helped thousands of poor women in Indonesia have healthy pregnancies.

The heroes didn't have governmental authority or any kind of broad popular mandate. They are people from all walks of life who simply decided to do something big and didn't give up.

When I give talks about finding and achieving your dreams, and share my own story of having created new pathways to get where I've wanted to be, I mention a sad reality: Most people never do. Life struggles, busy schedules, financial worries and numerous other obstacles make most people give up. For every reason to chase big ideas, the world will give you at least 1,000 reasons not to.

But the heroes, the successes of American innovators, and grassroots movements that achieved change remind us that the reason to try trumps all the reasons not to.

What made them successful? Some of it is how clever they were with their methods. But that's not the central ingredient.

As the head of a global innovation firm says in this Fortune column, "creativity is not enough. More important is conviction."

As a dad, I want to see everyone chase great, impossible sounding projects. Because some of them will help make life a little better for my kids.

Electricity. Air conditioning. Vaccines. Airplanes. Satellites. Everything we've created that improves our lives exists only because dreamers chased their visions.

It's the story of humanity. We adapt to survive.

So every time someone gets caught up in obstacles and leaves dreams to the wayside, we all take a step back.

I hope you'll keep that in mind as you think about your goals for 2012. The world could be counting on you -- and not even know it.

By all means, take on some more typical New Year's resolutions, too. The government even offers resources to help.

But now is the time to ask yourself what dream you have in you that's bigger. Then, make it happen. (I discuss how in the TedX Talk. One key: "Be the cups and ice.")

It'll give you fulfillment beyond anything you've imagined.

And, hey, it might even make you a hero.

Weigh in on this column at Facebook and Twitter

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Josh Levs.

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