Limitations are tricky. They are tricky little tricksters because they show up as “I can’t…” and “You would not be able to…” and “It’s impossible…” and those kind of phrases are tough to interpret.
On the one hand, some people face some seriously hardcore limitations that can’t just be willed away or treated tritely. None of us are really in a position to look at someone else’s suffering or limitations and judge them for not breaking through those limitations. There can be an enormous cost that goes into breaking perceived limits, and people may not be able or willing to pay that cost.
I do also think, to be honest, that there are some times when accepting certain limitations can be a better way to live than constantly fighting against them. I wrote about this in the context of coming to terms with what we can control, and what we can only influence.
On the other hand, I definitely don’t think we need to let our limitations define us. Have you heard of Nick Vujicic, the man who was born with no limbs? He is an incredible example of this to me. He says (in this video)
“There were times when I sort of looked at my life and thought well I can’t do this and I can’t do that and you keep on concentrating on the things you wish you had or the things you wish you didn’t have, and you sort of forget what you do have…”
You only need to see any of his videos to have your mind blown by how he didn’t let something like, you know, not having any limbs, define him or what he could do.
I am really challenged by Nick’s work (and life) to build from the foundation of “what you do have.” When I was doing the “What Would That Take?” exercise one of the limitations I faced was that I want to be generous and to feel a sense of abundance, and yet the obvious way to achieve that is financially, an area we don’t have much wiggle room in at the moment. When I asked myself “What Would That Take?” the obvious answer was “make more money,” and whilst that’s definitely something we’re working towards, it’s not something I can do instantly without paying a cost that I’m not willing to pay. Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that there is more than one way to feel a sense of abundance and to be generous with that abundance. Since thinking about that, I’ve been practising focusing on the amazing abundance we have in everyday life, and how we can be generous with that. I don’t want to be fall into the trap of being clichéd about this; I know it’s a simple example and even still I’ve found it easier to say than to do, but nonetheless, it absolutely is true that there is more than one way to get to where you want to be, and that starting with gratitude for what you’ve got is a much stronger position than only lamenting your limitations (though, yes, there can certainly be a place for lament).
Nick’s much more profound example is his gratitude for his “chicken drumstick” as he calls it, and the way he has learned to use it to break pretty much every limit you could imagine not having limbs would impose upon a man.
In the end, each person has to make their own decisions with the support of those they trust about which limitations they are going to struggle to overcome, and which ones they are going to choose to live ‘around’ or ‘within.’ Even living ‘within’ your limitations doesn’t have to mean being held back from where you want to be, but it might mean needing to find a unique or creative path to getting there.
I bring this up now because the “What Would That Take?” exercise (Step 3 of the #GoalsYouAchieve series) can really highlight limitations. You may, as you write through the questions, keep hitting up against the realisation that what it would “take” would seem to be something that you can’t change, or something that you can only change at too great a cost.
One way to face those perceived limitations head on is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is this limitation really preventing (and how big of a deal is that)?
- Is this limitation itself something I can change?
- Are the consequences of the limitation something I can change?
- Are the costs of changing the limitations or its consequences worth it?
- What do I already have that I can focus on and build from?
At one point in his life, Nick Vujicic’s lack of limbs was preventing him seeing much hope for life at all – a pretty big deal. He couldn’t change the fact that he was born with no limbs, but he could and did change the perceived consequences of that. It sounds like doing so cost him both pain and a lot of hard work along the way, but by all accounts it was worth it.
All of our limitations are different, and the questions I suggested aren’t necessarily easy to answer, but I do find that simply asking them can bring up new ways of thinking. You may feel limited by a very low income, or by chronic pain, or by elderly parents, or by being single, or being married, or having kids, or not having kids, or by special needs or by where you live or how you were born or something as simple as how much sleep you need. These things are real and shouldn’t be downplayed by anyone. They might mean you have some hard work ahead of you. They might mean you have to be a little more creative about how exactly you get to where you want to be. They might mean you need to really search to find what you do have that you can start building upon. I do not believe, however, that they mean you can’t have a rich and fulfilling life, a life of purpose.
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