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I often wonder if a lack of imagination and fear are two sides of the same coin.

Soon after we had our fourth child, my wife and I faced the challenging decision of whether to move to a larger house or renovate our existing home. We were torn, as both options had their own set of pros and cons.

After looking at other homes in the area, we concluded that building up on our existing house was the best option. It kept us near our friends and offered an exciting opportunity to essentially build our dream home. Since we were going to remodel, we wanted our new design to be highly tailored to our needs and interests.

We chose well-known architects in our area because one of our redesign objectives was to balance the character of the neighborhood with a more modern twist.

Our initial meeting with David, the architect, went great. We shared our vision for a new home: a few large spaces for our family to connect over meals, games, and other entertainment, and a few sectioned-off spaces where any of the six family members could find some privacy. Given that this occurred some time ago, we also made a few unusual requests, namely, to eliminate the formal dining room, convert all but one of the bathrooms to showers without baths, and create a unique exterior design that, at first glance, looked typical for the area but contained some distinctive elements upon closer inspection. We were so excited about our redesign ideas.

Many weeks later, when we met with David to review the first set of plans, our excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The plans were nothing like the objectives we had described to him. In the new design, all the bathrooms had bathtubs, a larger, more formal dining area was created, and the exterior had fewer design elements than if you had stacked two Amazon boxes on top of each other.

David was quick to explain that he was highly reluctant to make the changes we recommended. He frequently cited “resale value” in his explanation and insisted that we were being short-sighted about the need for a formal dining area and bathtubs. It didn’t matter to him that we had explained we didn’t use those features in our existing home.

It didn’t help that we had also involved our closest friends in the process, sharing both the new drawings and the architect’s logic with them. Only a few agreed with our vision. The paranoia in me imagined David secretly meeting with our friends to pay them off to agree with his thinking. More rationally, I concluded that our friends shared the same fears as David.

With all the naysaying, I too began experiencing fear—what if we couldn’t sell the house in the future, what if society returned to a culture of regular formal dinner settings, and what if we were wrong about not wanting to wash our hair in dirty bath water? As my fear increased, my imagination diminished.

Thankfully, my stubbornness paid off. We eventually switched to an architect from outside the area who was highly regarded for designing the next generation of houses. Not only was he an anti-bathwater advocate, but he also suggested ways to push our design even further. Our final design and remodel came to fruition over the next year. These events occurred over 20 years ago, and my family still adores the house, which has created so many fantastic memories.

As a recruiter, I feel disheartened when candidates state that they won’t pursue a new path or a stretch opportunity, either because they can’t fully see the vision or are afraid of failure. It’s as though they have listened too much to “David,” their friends, or their inner voice that now lacks aspiration due to years of corporate dulling. Which comes first—the lack of imagination or the fear? I’m not entirely sure, but perhaps recognizing the dilemma is the first step to fixing it.

Hire Thought  There are things that hold us back—sometimes fear can inhibit our imagination and cause us to hesitate in exploring new ideas or possibilities. Conversely, a lack of imagination can lead to fear because, without the ability to see alternatives or new solutions, we may feel vulnerable or uncertain.

Take stock of what is holding you back and assess the risks associated with stepping over the line of fear. Of course, we should all rely on counsel from others. But at some point, we need our own conviction to drive our path.

If it helps at all, know that people like me are fully supportive if you reach the conclusion that you do not want to wash your body with dirty water. It’s ultimately up to you to be stubborn or highly committed to what you truly desire.

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