03 April 2010

Limiting Limits

Limits, we all have them. Even Superman has kryptonite. A lot of times, however, we humans tend to believe we don’t have limits, that there is nothing we can’t do. We’re even rewarded for reaching or trying to move past our limits. The problem is: a limit is, well, limiting. it is impossible to move past our limits, at least not for very long.

The specific ways we get into trouble are usually by not defining our true limits, trying to exceed one or more limit, operating at the limit threshold for an extended period of time, operating far below one or more of our limits, and when other people believe they can define our limits better than we can.

Why define our own personal limits? Well, because if we have an idea of what we’re capable of, then we’re less likely to be too close—or too far away. For instance, if you know you need nine hours of sleep most nights in order to be at your best, then you’re less likely to take on a project that will involve a lot of late evenings. And, if you absolutely have to take on the project anyway (or choose to), then you will know you need to set aside time for naps, maybe arrange to come into work a bit later, or just not be surprised that a week into the project you’re grouchy and exhausted.

Which brings me to the next point: trying to exceed our limits. For example, the above project. You know very well that you need nine hours of sleep, but you’re Superman/woman. The need for sleep is all in your head. Other people function on six hours a night, you can too. Right? Wrong. You’re fine for a few days. I can do this, you think. You’ll show your boss/fellow employees/mother-in-law/your third-grade teacher that you’re made of steel. Sure you’re a little cranky, but that’s because of the stress of the project. Sure you fell asleep at your desk yesterday, but that was because you hadn’t eaten all day (another limit!). Maybe you manage to muddle through the project, not doing your best, but you make it. Maybe you take out your exhaustion on your wife/husband/fellow employees/mother-in-law/a stranger who looks exactly like your third-grade teacher. Or maybe you fall asleep at the wheel of the car and have a near-fatal accident. Maybe barely missing a child.

Then there are those people who get nowhere near their limits. Not you or I, you understand, but there are some who almost never push even hard enough to get near their limits. They take the easy road. The classic underachiever. These folks may not hold a job, or maybe a menial one. They’re the first to head home after work, the first to try for a free giveaway, the ones who play video games all day, who complain that they aren’t getting a fair shake in life. Who take forever to do anything. Who bore others with their long-drawn-out-talk. After all, what do they have to do? Maybe they simply don’t know what they’re capable of. Come on, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

Lastly, there are those OTHER people. The ones who know your limits better than you. Or at least they think they do. Like the boss who expects you to finish that above mentioned project. Like the mother-in-law who doesn’t believe you are doing everything you can for her baby. Like the co-worker who feels that you aren’t carrying your weight. Like the person who tells someone in a wheelchair and says, "I’d be in a wheelchair too if I had given in to my disease."

To which I say, "I’d be strangling you right now, if I gave in to my anger."

Have a great weekend!

Cheryel Hutton
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