Though life has not been easy, you’ve always found ways to keep moving forward. But now it all feels like too much, and you might even feel like you are coming apart. Maybe you encourage yourself to just push through–“No pain. No gain.” But it’s not working and you feel weak and like a failure. Many people get stuck in this dilemma, not seeing a solution. The reality is that there is a way out, but it’s counter-intuitive. To reach new heights, you must accept your limitations.
This may sound like accepting failure, but it’s not. If you are someone who likes to think you can do anything you put your mind to, you may be setting yourself up for feeling like a failure. We all have very real limitations that will cause pain and suffering when we deny them. Just try putting your head through a brick wall and you will smack into that very hard reality.
One area where many people deny their limitations is in taking on increasingly more tasks and responsibilities as though they can do anything and extend themselves limitlessly. But we all have the same number of hours each day to accomplish tasks– no matter how well we manage our time. We are all limited by how much we can realistically control in our lives. And, whether we like it or not, none of us can lay claim to an endless fund of knowledge and abilities. So, there are times when we undoubtedly benefit from accepting these limits.
This can be one of the most difficult “accomplishments” in your life. Yoga teacher David Swenson explains that doing yoga is most difficult when, for whatever reason (such as being injured or too tired), people choose to leave out parts of their practice. Noting how people are often self-critical when this happens, he says, “Much of our experience will be determined by how we choose to perceive the situation we are in.” And so it is with the rest of life.
When you repeatedly hit against a limitation, it won’t help and will certainly hurt – just as surely as it would if you keep trying to pound your head through a brick wall. At those times, it’s good to remind yourself, Doing that hurts! Stop it! Then, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate trying to do the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is a true path forward. And that path may include learning how to find a bridge from where you are to where you want to be.
For instance, Helen repeatedly attempted to get her partner to stop demeaning her, but her efforts seemed to have no effect and she was becoming increasingly unhappy. Finally, by accepting her limitation of not being able to make him change (no one can make others do anything), she was left with having to consider an alternative path. She thought about either trying couples therapy or just ending the relationship so she could open herself to a healthier one.
Sharon faced a similar moment of choice in the work arena. When her supervisor directed her to use information collected by their software to develop of marketing plan, she panicked. She was not sufficiently proficient in using their software to do this well, and she was terrified of being found out. But once she reasoned that she didn’t need to know the software better until this point, she could accept this limitation as simply a fact – not as proof of her incompetence. Then she knew what she had to do – either find someone to teach her the software or partner with someone who knew it well enough for this project.
In the end, it is your choice – be self-critical of your limitations or accept them as part of being human. When you stop trying to get out of a room by knocking your head through the wall, you may notice an open window, or even a door. If you don’t, you can at least recognize that hitting your head is not going to help. Who knows – maybe when you stop the self-abuse and drop to the floor in frustrated disappointment, your new perspective will reveal a trapdoor. Whatever your situation, not only can acknowledging your limitations provide clarity, but you may also save yourself from a terrible headache!