“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”



“ … they don’t thrive on non stop goals & objectives and “milestones.”

They thrive on dreams, and possibilities and “what ifs” and “why nots.”

Me from my “The Greatest Danger” post


I recently reread “Fixed versus Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets that Shape Our Lives” on brainpickings and one Carol Dweck quote stood out to me:

“Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable)”

This made me write today about personal limitations. We all have them. We all hate ‘em. We all ignore them.

I tend to believe most of suck at managing our lives against our limitations.

Heck. I tend to believe we suck at even defining them.

Now. To give everyone a break; it is hard.

I believe it is really really hard <mainly> because mentally it is extremely difficult to always have a finely tuned instrument of realism, pessimism and optimism. A mental instrument perfectly pitched for your life where you doubt just enough to be humble and realistic, optimistic enough to aim high and stretch your limitations and realistic enough to know when enough is enough <you have gone as far as you can go and do what you can do>.

Once again, simply recognizing your limitations is a challenge (really difficult) but it is compounded by respecting those limitations and ultimately finally submitting to them <realistically>.

So. While having personal limitations is human, aligning yourself mentally, emotionally and realistically takes an almost inhuman amount of effort. We struggle to admit not being perfect, okay, maybe not perfect, but that some things are just not possible or that we may not actually be good at something or to admit that there is a gap between our best and what the best is.

A truth? It can be extremely healthy, freeing, to recognize and accept limitations because once you have done that you can figure out how to move forward from there.

Ah. Moving forward. That is another tricky part in this limitations acknowledgement equation.

Once you recognize limitations, does doubt creep in?

Do you stop trying?

Do you accept your best as not being good enough or just good enough?


Is this as good as <I> it gets?

Limitations weave a wicked web in the head. It is constant tug of war in our heads with tendencies of  overbearing pride and life spent half gonea lack of self-confidence. Both are very dangerous.

Pride makes you overestimate your abilities. you think you’re capable of a lot more than you can really handle.

Lack of confidence makes you underestimate your potential. you don’t think you can accomplish things you can actually do <if you did them>. you never truly find out what you are capable of.

Anyway. Letting one of these tendencies dominate you makes it impossible to form an accurate self-image and an accurate assessment of what your real opportunities <and possibilities> are, let alone even know what your real possibilities are. While you seek to keep a mindset of realism, optimism and pessimism in tune, you also have to seek to accept the gap between your abilities and the best. Because, remember, the best is the pinnacle and at best there are few <if not one> who can truly be the best of the best. This is not meant to suggest you shouldn’t be striving to close the gap, but by recognizing limitations you see the gap closing and at the same time kind of recognize it will never be completely closed — and are okay with that. Despite that you study, learn, practice and keep trying to develop – stretching and challenging your limitations.

We certainly cannot all be Michelangelo, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aim as high as we can. Uhm. With realism.

Now. About that idea of ‘realism.’ Now. I am not a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and I got even grumpier when I read this in Outliers: the Story of Success about how we can all become ‘experts’ regardless of our limitations or skill set:

 “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours“

“… to become an expert in a field of study, it merely takes 10,000 hour of focus and practice on the topic at hand“.

“Outside of the top 1% and the bottom 1%, anyone can become a professional musician if they practice enough”. 



This is bullshit.

This is nuts.

Absolutely crazy.

I love to work and I am all for working hard and developing your best to be the best it can be but, c’mon, a formula for being an expert? And, worse, suggesting that if you simply work hard and invest time you will be an expert?

That is frickin’ nuts.

Look. I worked 10,000 hours in a 4 year span <yeah … that’s what averaging 50 hours a week 50 weeks a year will get ya> in my late 20’s and I loved almost every minute and I absolutely became better than I was and maybe better than some others. But an expert? Not even close.

Maybe I am the village idiot and I need 20,000 hours to become an ‘expert’ but suffice it to say while at the end of that stretch I was being paid way too much money and I had a high falutin’ title before I was even 30 … and I was not even close to being an expert.

<update: The author of the original 10,00o research – a guy named Ericsson – has already gone on record that Gladwell sorely missed the point of his research and oversimplified. In addition, a study found in ‘The Sports Gene’ actually suggests that 10,000 hours will not matter if you are not genetically blessed to begin with>

Anyway. This insane 10,000 thought Malcolm so flippantly throws out there also disregards a couple of things:

–          Passion and true talent are not always matched.life searching for why

Experts have some passion. A love of what they do combined with a real talent for that particular talent or skill.

My definition of an expert may not match Malcolm’s. Simply putting in the hours may make me better than I was <it will> and maybe make me better than most <it will>, but that will not necessarily make me an expert. Experts have talent intermingled with some emotional investment to make them better than the better. Emotional investment without talent is like falling in love with someone who doesn’t really love you. You may get married <mistakenly> but something will always be missing.

Final truth?

Not all of us can be experts. Sorry. That is what understanding limitations is all about. It is a difficult lesson … it is a lesson that no one seems to want to say out loud … but it is a Life truth.

–          Expertise learned is not the same as being a learned expert.

10,000 hours may teach someone the mechanics very very well. How to think, what to think and how to ‘do’ efficiently and effectively. They have become learned of the expertise. The problem? They can’t think it, feel it or abstractly maneuver within it. This is how you recognize these people: they act robotically. Each stimulus has an exact calculated response. A learned expert adapts.

Final truth?

Limitations can keep you from being an expert. Some limitations can be stretched … bent … sometimes even broken to be recreated at a different spot, but a limitation is a limitation.



Even if you are in the top 1%, practice harder than anyone alive, and have the right attitude it can still go wrong:

“I continuously go further and further learning about my own limitations, my body limitation, psychological limitations. It’s a way of life for me.”

Ayrton Sennalimitations difference knowing

Senna was one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. It seemed like every year, even while being the best, he got better.

He died in a Formula One race car crash.

It’s dangerous to be propelled by pride, but also by unrealistic expectations of your own limitations. In other words, stretching the limits and your limitations too far can be dangerous.

Expecting too much of yourself and those forces can drive you to a tragic end. If you are not careful ,you can construct and fairly elaborate construct of personal expectations far beyond your limitations. Simply put – you don’t build in the fact you are human.

Everybody has a wall they can hit. That is called ‘a limitation.’

Which leads me to knowing “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.” This is part of understanding your limitations.

It suggests a couple of key things with regard to limitations: getting in the game in combination with knowing when to get out of the game.

Look. I may have too high expectations of people. I don’t think I do. I just sometimes think many people have very low expectations of themselves.

So there are some things you can’t do right now. Who cares? Get in the game.

What you’re doing is more than you have done in the past. As your confidence grows more and more possibilities open to you and things you can do that you never imagined before. In other words, your limitations have been redefined.

Cope with your limitations.

In recognizing your inherent limitations you begin to do everything you can and yet know you can’t do everything. You do everything you can with an understanding that “everything you can” cannot be everything.

And when you get close to ‘the wall’? Get out of the game. Fold ‘em.

I recognize it’s not easy.

Sometimes … just when you think you know yourself … you disappoint yourself.

And sometimes … just when you think you know yourself … you surprise yourself.

And while I slammed Gladwell a little earlier I will use a smart <obvious but oft overlooked> insightful quote to close this out:


“We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.”

Malcolm Gladwell



Limitations can be drawn by yourself <and they should be> as well as by others <which most often they shouldn’t be>.

You know what you are capable of.

You know what you are not capable of.

You don’t really need someone else writing you off on something … until you have decided you should be.

In addition, we are too often in awe of those who succeed and certainly invest far far too much energy trying to emulate them.

I do believe the whole limitations thing is one of Life’s most difficult ongoing challenges.

look famous be legandaryThe best I often think we can do is to continuously tinker with our mindset continuously tuning realism, optimism and pessimism — all important to keep things in balance and a finely tuned Life.

Constantly nudging up against the “why nots” and “what ifs” because possibilities keep us going. We all want something better or just simply to be better.

We are not all Michelangelo.

But we can all aim as high as we can … recognizing that our best … may not be Michelangelo best … but it is the best we can be.

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Written by Bruce