The personal development and self-improvement fields famously promote the idea of exceeding one’s limitations. That is, if we shrink away from expanding our boundaries and skillsets, we probably will not achieve our goals. Generally speaking, this is excellent advise. After all it’s easy to relax and not step outside of one’s comfort zone.
Meanwhile, it’s unwise not to know and understand one’s personal limitations. Sometimes one’s ambitions are simply not a good fit. For instance, at one job, the managers encouraged the employees to become salespersons as the best way to ascend the ladder of success. The company employed several highly successful salepeople who were apparently “born to sell”. They were as ethical and genuine in so far as professionality is concerned. Selling was a good fit for these people.
Meanwhile, when I finally decided to enter the sales force, I felt a niggling sense that this was something wrong for me. I didn’t feel motivated to sell. It wasn’t about being too lazy or frightened to step outside of my comfort zone. I was a cocky young man who believed the world was my oyster. However, every time I picked up the phone to cold call clients or pound the pavement to see prospects in person, a voice inside said, “What’s the point of this?” I sucked it up and ignored this limitation and kept on trying, because that was what the sales manager wanted. Also, my competitive drive pushed me to equal and exceed my peers in that department. After all, anybody can do anything at all if they put their noses to the grindstone, right?
On and on, I wrestled with my decision to become a salesperson. Trying not to overthink things, I pushed aside my strong doubts and soldiered forward. Yet despite the effort, I felt increasingly empty inside. Did I want to spend the rest of my career selling? Perhaps I wasn’t working hard enough or simply had the wrong attitude.
After several weekends of serious contemplation about my life, I realized that selling was not a viable career choice for me. I yearned for my old journalistic and on-air work at the company. I was truly happier working in those capacities. I had to admit that sales was a poor personal choice. Thankfully, the general manager understood my dilema and allowed me to return to programing. Before I knew it, I was back in the swing of things. The paychecks were smaller, but my work satisfaction was larger. The anguish and worrying were absent.
Regarding more mundane aspects of life, understanding my personal limitations also proved to be auspicious. This likely saved me and my loved ones from considerable grief.
One day I was notified that one of my dream cars, a Datsun 240 Z, was available to buy and was priced within my budget. I drove out of town to visit the dealer who had the car. Upon seeing the sports car, I fell in love with it. The salesman encouraged me to test drive it. I agreed to do so.
I slid into the seat behind the wheel and savored the feel of actually sitting inside of an actual 240 Z. The salesman trusted me to drive the car alone, so I powered up the engine, slipped the transmission into first gear, let out the clutch, and was soon on the highway. I rowed through the gears faster than I anticipated–so much fun! It felt like the car was custom designed for me and me alone.
Somewhere along the highway, I glanced at the speedometer and gasped. The car was traveling nearly 100-miles-an-hour. At first, I didn’t trust the reading but observing the road’s centerline showed that the car was moving too fast. I let up on the gas pedal to slow to the legal speed limit. Driving 65 mph felt boring in that car. I instantly understood that if I bought the 240 Z that I’d be racking up speeding tickets. There was also the likelihood that I’d end up in a serious or deadly crash someday.
Reluctantly, I returned the sports car to the dealership and surrendered the keys. Driving my own conventional sedan back home, I felt like I had dodged a big bullet. Although I admire fast, sporty cars, I am too easily tempted to drive them fast. This is a limitation that is unwise to ignore. I decided to remain within my car owning parameters. In this case, it’s been better to stay in that comfort zone.
Through these two examples I learned that we don’t always better our lives nor increase our effectiveness by ignoring our limitations. We learn and acknowledge them and learn from them. We discover whether to continue on the path or take a detour.
The ideal vision of unlimited possibilities and abstract visualizations are great ways to imagine new horizons. However, they remain abstract fantasies if we don’t physically try them on for size. In the doing, we find out what we are actually capable and willing to do and what we cannot and do not wish to try again. I can dream all day about becoming an astronaut, but my health status and age are obstacles in the way of realistically attaining that kind of work right now. This obvious limitation is laughable, but I still dream about it sometimes; and that’s OK.
There comes a time in one’s life when regardless of ambition, we set parameters for effectively living our lives. It seems that everyone wants to rule the world. We like the idea of being remembered in the history books as important, wise leaders. The idea that we could legally enforce our views about how the world in the manner we believe it should be run feels exciting. Suddenly, one realizes that the fantasy leader has morphed and devolved into a world dictator. The majority of us decide to never cross the Rubicon into that territory. Although role-playing mind games like this are fun, they illustrate that prosperity culture needs limitations. World domination only brings infamy.
Certainly it is a good thing to have dreams and goals for the future and to pursue ways to become the best versions of ourselves. The trick is to discover our capabilities and potentials. If we fail to at least explore beyond the comfort zone, we may end up living an old age filled with regrets. We are smart to expose ourselves to new ways of thinking and practice new areas to hone expertise. This is how we learn realistic possibilities.
The belief in ourselves is bravery. Not believing in our limitations is stupidity. History’s greatest artists and scientists had flaws and hangups that no amount of grit and discipline could overcome. No amount of personal coaching nor positivity training could erase those limitations. The great, creative people of history understood their limitations and figured out how to make their weaknesses compliment their strengths. This ability made them unique and historically relevant.
We too, can have better lives by acknowledging and learning from our flawed natures. Understanding and learning from our limitations might be our greatest gifts to ourselves. At the very least, if we don’t know our limits, how can we overcome them?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, consultant, and CEO of Quantraz, Inc., Sukant Ratnakar. “A cup can only hold so much water. The planet can’t go out of its orbital path, the Sun can’t move from its position, and possibly the Universe, too, has its boundaries. Everything in this Universe is restricted by its limitations. The only thing that can work in infinite dimensions is the human mind.”