“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible” Arthur C. Clarke
I once called my mom and asked her what she thought of this quote. She thought about it for a second and said “It describes you perfectly”.
We all have limitations. Some are inbred, some are thrown upon us and some we impose on ourselves. Limitations come in all forms. Some are physical, some mental, emotional, societal, religious and so on.
I have my fair share of limitations. I’m not shy about them nor am I apologetic. If you want something you need to work for it. If you want something far-fetched then you need to be creative in your methods and put in more effort. And if there’s something limiting you, well… that’s life. I’ll give you an example. I am short. Really short. But I am incredibly fast and freakishly strong. On a side note, I actually have a 1st place wrestling medal. Me! The tiny French kid against the much bigger American kids!! I assure you that was a victory no one saw coming.
As a kid in LA, after school we would play sports – usually handball and basketball. Obviously, I would usually play handball since my speed and strength gave me an advantage and my lack of height gave me no disadvantage. But every so often, I would play basketball because I enjoyed it. Obviously, again, I was never one of the best players. I was usually used as the person who could get the ball from one side of the court to the other really really fast. And that’s ok. I would use my strength to play the game knowing full well that I had serious limitations. But one day…
One day we were playing with some high school kids. They were being nice and included me in their game. At some point, one of them threw the ball to someone else and I was in-between them. For some inexplicable reason, I jumped up and then everything was in slow motion. I remember jumping up, my waist reaching their eye level (apparently I jumped REALLY high) catching the ball (I even remember the short and pained “what?? no!” from the one who threw the ball), turning my body mid-air, throwing the ball towards the basket and making the shot. Honestly? I’m not sure who was more surprised. Them or me. When my mom came to pick me up, one of them told her I was a really awesome basketball player – I don’t think she’s ever been as surprised as that.
What’s the point of the story? It’s simple. You need to try your best at everything you do, and yes, if we’re realistic then statistics tell us that the chances of us being #1 in something is extremely low and that’s ok. The truth is that most people are average and to be fair, most of those people can have wonderful average lives! There is no need to be like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs to have an awesome life.
But even with an average life, there are still limitations that need to be dealt with. So the question then becomes, how do you best deal with limitations. I have found two ways that work consistently. The first is to work around your limitation and the second is to use your limitation to your advantage. What do I mean? Let me give you an example.
I have always had a habit of underplaying my intelligence. I found that people opened up more easily and showed me who they were a lot more easily when they could feel they had the upper hand. Because physically I am far from imposing, people more easily believe this simpleton version of me. Because of this habit, I sometimes do it unintentionally.
In the first method, you try to show your strengths and earn their appreciation. There are pros and cons to using this method. The pro is that they don’t underestimate you and then treat you based on your capabilities. The con is that to some, this may look desperate.
For the second method, I’ll use an example from TV. There’s a TV show I like – Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are two characters there that I will use to prove my point. Gina and Charles. On one of the episodes, Charles is taken advantage of as a roomie. Gina tells him he needs to be more Alpha and just to tell the guy that he needs to move out. Charles being anything but an Alpha shies away from it and even says he’s hoping that by being Beta the other guy will take pity and leave. This goes back and forth a few times with no success on Charles’ part in telling the person to move out. Finally, Gina steps in and out-Alpha’s the bad roommate. She turns around with an I told you so face and tells charge that “that’s how it’s done”. Charles smiles and says “Or maybe I Beta’ed you into protecting me”. That is using your weakness as an advantage.