I was 5 years old when my parents took me to my first movie. It wasn’t just a movie. It was a drive-in movie. It wasn’t just a drive-in movie. It was Star Wars.
Needless to say, it flipped me right out.
Unlike most of my pals at the time, though, who called out “I’m Luke!” or “I’m Vader” or “I’m Chewbacca!” or “I’m Han” or whatever during play sessions, I was obsessively drawn to R2-D2. I didn’t just want to be R2, I wanted to BE R2. Something about his character, his utility, his outright usefulness in so many contexts and situations captivated and appealed to me. So, my room had models of R2 on the shelves, my bedside table had an R2 alarm clock, my windows? Adorned with R2 curtains. PJs? R2, baby. Underoos? NOTHING but R2. My watch? An homage to R2. My birthday cakes were more than once shaped in his honor out of eggs, sugar and flour.
The obsession continued. I might even say it never actually ended. I saw, and continue to see, his influence everywhere. In the functionality of tools, vehicles, and other simple machines, devices, industrial design, consumer gadgets and the elegant simplicity, sheer utility of complex, in solid adaptive, resilient and integrated systems design.
Which is just a first step. There is no measure of R2’s dedication, enthusiasm, passion, muster, willingness, resiliency and selflessness to adapt so readily, without fear or delay, to so many challenges on behalf of his pals. Man, did that ever inspire me as I moved around growing up. As a kid who was constantly having to adapt to new environments, new geographic layouts, people, styles, vocabularies, dialects, postures, the whole thing, well, that wasn’t easy. So, I often imagined what R2 would do, moving through situations as if I were him. Just the idea of him, imagining myself as an embodiment of him (a machine!) gave me confidence when I needed it and, I admit, continues to influence me to this day. Silly? Okay. So what?
Imagination is what makes children powerful. It makes all of us powerful. Especially children, though, since they are still so in touch with their imaginations. As children we imagine ourselves as someone else, someone more capable of accomplishing what we feel we cannot. Through personas many of us are able to make our first, significant achievements. Whether faced with the adversity of a spelling bee, school play, or playground rights of passage, we resort to the power of our imagination to envision ourselves accomplishing something seemingly beyond our reach.
When I think of the pair of them: C3PO and R2D2, one represents doubt while the other represents overcoming it. C3P0’s Eeyore to R2’s Pooh. One tempers the other. We wouldn’t want to be naive in our optimism but without any “can do” spirit we would wallow in a pit of fear and doubt.
Success seems to pivot on something simple: the will to believe. Believe we can? We will. Believe we can’t? We won’t.
Either way, we are right.