The Most Essential Step to Overcoming Your Limitations
My parents lied to me.
They said I could be anything I wanted-even the President of the United States.
When I was nine, I wanted to be a scientist.
I started inventing miracle potions that would change the world. In reality I sneaked into my parents bathroom, mixed cosmetics and household chemicals together, and poured my magic potion on ants and other bugs, and watched them sizzle.
Fortunately, I didn’t kill myself or blow up the house while I was changing the world. Nor did I progress into darker crimes against nature.
Somewhere along the way, though—probably in seventh-grade—I realized science wasn’t my gig.
I liked the idea of science, but I lost interest when we had to memorize numerous scientific terms and their definitions, like osmosis: the transfer of a molecule through a semi-permeable membrane. My interest level in science became an obstacle to my dream of being a scientist.
One reason people get stuck in life is they’re not being honest with themselves about their limitations.
I know it is not popular doctrine nowadays, so go ahead and get your tomatoes ready, but: the spirit of democratic thought has deceived our generation.
Maybe someone lied to you when you were little. And maybe you believed them. They said you could do anything you wanted. I’m sure they meant well. They weren’t being malicious. They were trying to inspire you. They lied to you like you lied to your wife when she asked if her cooking was as good as your mother’s. If you’re of the number who is stuck this way, it’s time to get honest about your limitations.
I realize this may seem to be a flower that’s out of place in a modern garden full of congenialities, but all people are not created equal. If you look closely, that means with both eyes open, you’ll see nature tells a different story than the politically correct sophists.
I’m not talking about race, ethnicity, gender, religious creed, or the like. So let’s not be of the company that gets their knickers in a knot. I’m talking about natural ability. In that regard, nature is not democratic!
We’re all equally valuable, but not equally gifted.
Take the girl in my high school band class who played the first chair saxophone in the woodwind section every year. Music came as easy as breathing for her. I practiced religiously and labored over every measure. But even with all my effort, eventually I reached the point of diminishing returns.
No matter how much I practiced, the best I could ever do was make second chair. When my returns stopped matching my investment, I knew I had to get honest with my limitations before I killed myself with anxiety and frustration.
I didn’t quit altogether, though. I still worked to improve at playing the saxophone—and the girl in the first chair provided healthy competition for my growth—but I eventually accepted I was never going to rival Kenny G. And I was okay with that. I enjoyed playing the sax, but there were other things I loved too.
Recognizing my limitations in one area of life opened the door for me to explore other meaningful passions–like writing!
No Promise Life Would Be Fair
One of the objectives of a free society is to assure its citizens the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But it doesn’t guarantee anyone will succeed at it.
Sometimes people get sick, or injured, and end up in a hospital bed, or a cemetery. Equality and encouraging words can do nothing for them then. It’s not fair, I know, but it is reality.
Some people don’t have wealthy parents to pay for college. That doesn’t seem fair either, but it is real life.
Others don’t have the stomach or intellectual capacity for a rigorous college education. There’s no shame in that. Some are more naturally suited for a vocational career rather than a professional one.
I’m not trying to squash anyone’s dreams here.
I think we all should strive to succeed at the things we love to do. I think we all should strive to be the best version of ourselves we can be. But we need to be honest with ourselves at the same time.
Maybe you love singing in the shower, and your mom thinks you have a great voice; that doesn’t mean you automatically deserve an audition on the next American Idol.
So if you’ve found yourself grinding away–unsuccessfully–at something you thought you were made for, but your returns are not measuring up to your investment of energy and resources, maybe you’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. That’s not always a bad place to be, if you recognize it, and you’re willing to be honest with yourself about your limitations.
“So what do we do about it? We lean in, realizing that failure is inevitable, but it’s also not a legitimate obstacle. We can keep moving, albeit sometimes in a different direction.”1
The most essential step to overcoming your limitations is to let go of the unrealistic expectations, and look for the pivot point that’s going to move you into your best position for success.
You may not be able to do or be anything you want, but that shouldn’t stop you from succeeding at something meaningful you love.
1 Goins, Jeff. The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. 127.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.