I have limits. I have limits when I am under a bar loaded with weight at the bottom of a squat. My hamstrings and my glutes are only so strong; the erectors in my spine are only so strong; I only have so much energy in my muscles; I only got so much sleep.
I can only believe in my own strength so much.
I have limits when I am working to make the world better. I am limited by my past experience, what I have learned and how that shapes what I believe is possible. I can only break out of patterns so much;I can only assimilate this much information; I can only dedicate this much of my heart.
I can only have this much faith.
These limits are both healthy and helpful. If I didn’t know my limits I would pile 350 lb’s on the bar and try to squat it and in the least drop the bar, in the worst really get hurt. In my work these limits hemm me in, keep me focused.
We all have different limits. Alex Honnold’s limits in climbing allow him to climb to scary heights without protection (no ropes!) and break amazing records (seriously you have to watch this).
But if we rest on these limits, if we let them be the static boundaries of our training and our work, then we get stuck, we plateau, we stop growing. Alex wasn’t born free soling. He had other limits, but he pushed himself for years to expand his limits to the point that he could climb unprotected. This process of expanding limits is a finely balanced place to train, work, and live.
In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about meeting challenges that both match our existing skills, our existing accumulated knowledge and experience, that also push just beyond them. In confronting these challenges we experience flow and we learn and progress to even greater challenges. If the challenge is too little we get bored (or get weaker) if it is too great we just dont know what to do, we get lost (injured) and demoralized.
The work of improving health and building fitness is the balance of knowing limits and pushing beyond them to grow, to get stronger, to grow confidence in the process. Sometimes I push too far and I get hurt. Sometimes I push further then I thought possible and I am surprised by my own strength and endurance and it gives me a boost. Sometimes I grind out my planned workouts for months, confronting limits in small ways everyday.
The work of changing the world often is far less linear, far less predictable, far less controlled. We are contending with factors that far out number the variables in a room full of iron, far less controllable then what you personally eat before you lift or run. It is confusing, overwhelming, and calls for immediate action all of the time.
Regardless, justice movements, organizations, strategists, should take a lesson from Hannold. We should know our limits and learn how others have confronted the same limits. And then we need to take those lessons, and create our own path to push the limits, but we have to be ready to fail sometimes, and at other times break through.
And one day, like Hannold, we will wake up and do something that everyone else thought was impossible.