Embrace Your Limits

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

We often define ourselves by our limits. This can be bad or this can be good.

In the bad form, we fear our flaws, differences and supposed shortcomings and give them power. We allow the limits to loom large and use them as excuses — convincing ourselves that they make us inadequate and unable to pursue our dreams. We fantasize that it is our imperfection that keeps us from achieving things when in reality we are unwilling to re-evaluate our ideals or are too scared to fail.

But, you say, “I am an artist who injured their dominant hand. This is not fear. This is reality.”  

The opposite of fearing your limits is not literally overcoming them, it’s embracing them and using them. You don’t ever need to pretend your imperfections don’t exist.  As author Stephen Donaldson says, “I respect my limitations, but I don’t use them as an excuse.”

In the good form, limits define us like the bank of a river defines the water’s path. Strong rock will not give in and soft rock gives way slowly, creating unique flow and helping the river meander in interesting ways.

Orson Welles says, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” He means that our limitations define our niche in life, frame our uniqueness and help us carve out our uncommon and inspired paths. Great creative aspirations demand distinction, difference and these are the good ways that limitation shapes us.  

Take the amazing example of Phil Hansen. Phil did pointillism-based artwork in school and had a promising career ahead of him making masterpieces from miniscule, accurate dots on paper. Then he developed nerve damage and a tremor in his dominant hand. Pointillism became impossible. This limit, this flaw and disability felt catastrophic and could not be overcome. He believed his career and his life as an artist was over. He quit school and fell into a deep depression until, one day, a casual conversation with his doctor changed his whole paradigm.  

The doctor simply wondered, out loud, what would happen if Phil “Embraced the Shake.” What happened was that Phil became more creative and innovative as he sought out opportunities to use his tremor in his artwork. He realized he had something no other artist had — a hand with a shake that he could guide in creative and interesting ways. He also had an amazing story of triumph. He became the artist who made limitation inspiration.

Does this mean limitations are not painful? No. They send you into the dirt and require a new perspective to rise up. They sometimes require that you shift course or meander. They demand that you get in touch with what you really value at the heart of your goals and dreams. Phil thought he valued success in Pointillism, but he really valued making art.

So what is it that you REALLY value behind the goals. When you run up against a limitation, first off, don’t awfulize the situation. Failure is hell.  No doubt. Just try not to heap on. There’s no value in that. No motivation value. Nothing. Don’t kick yourself when you’re down. 

But you have to see Failure as the First Attempt In Learning.  Learning what you CAN contribute, what your skill set is in the world, how you can give back, be more, and still live your truth.

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