“The sky is the limit”.
A well-known motto, heavily used in motivational literature, served as a solution for poor fragile souls waiting for redemption. An emotional drug for those who have been defeated over and over again. Incentive for those who seem to lack imagination. Blame for those who appear to be too lazy or missing motivation. Annoying adage for those who have actually reached their personal limits or have a significant experience with losing…
The quote above is a lie. Or, it is not true.
You have limits and they vary in time and along your personal history. However, it’s one thing to arrive very fast to the conclusion that you have reached your limits and a totally different thing to actually push yourself against your own boundaries, just to test and see how far you can go… or how high you can rise.
One might say that limitations are self-imposed. Yes and no. They are self-imposed but they also depend on external factors that are not under your control. For instance, an atomic explosion can definitely ruin your day.
I have chosen as image for this article a screenshot from Samurai Jack. Personally, I regard it as being one of the best cartoon shows I’ve ever seen. For those who know it, it’s the encounter between Jack and the Guardian of the time portal. The fight between the two is brutal and, remarkably, the samurai is defeated (it may be the only time in the entire show when he’s defeated). The guardian is simply too strong, and the skill and the determination of the samurai are simply not enough to win. At the beginning of the encounter, Jack asks for permission to return back to his historical time and the Guardian simply replies: “It ain’t gonna happen!” And… it doesn’t happen. The samurai fails.
We are limited by at least two things: our readiness and our context. And they require some clarification.
Our readiness or our willingness to go on is simply how much we allow ourselves to go further on a certain path. It is, in a way, our free will, our choice. We limit ourselves when the situation does not seem to give us an extra benefit in some way. At some point we cease to persevere. The reason? The “game” – our own situation or what we imagine we can get out of it – is perceived as lacking value (or not having “sufficient” value). People play games because they appear to be valuable, because there is a prize. The prize varies: money, social status, fun/entertainment, a way to kill boredom and so on. If there isn’t a prize in sight, people give up. Practically, what we believe limits us. We can’t possibly know everything and every way in which a situation can develop and what the likeliest outcomes are, but we… believe… or we hope… that something will turn out in a specific way and not in any other way. And there lies our limit. On the other hand, the inhibiting effect of our beliefs helps us not to excessively persevere in a direction or situation that is completely lost. It helps us to say to ourselves: “It’s over, man! Let it/him/her go!”
Our context(uality) is simply our present situation – as it is “here and now”. Our circumstances and background change from moment to moment, and some of these changes are uncontrollable. A Third World War will definitely alter our lives and will surely generate limitations, and we may not be the ones who started it… Similarly, an accident or a disease will slow us more or less. Our personal life-history and our own spiritual flaws will also limit us. Being born a man and not a woman will prevent us from having (giving birth to) children of our own. And finally, death has a limiting effect that is not to be neglected. To put it simply, being a human being – and being ourselves and not any other human being – is inevitably limiting us.
Returning to the image of the samurai and the guardian, there is willingness to fight and go beyond one’s limits, that is, there is an availability to take certain risks. How much risk one can bear defines one’s limits. Then, there is also the context of timing… or time. The guardian, after defeating the samurai, ends the episode by saying: “not yet, not yet”. Our contextuality is linked to our time: at certain moments in time (or during certain phases or stages) we can do certain things – or perhaps meet certain persons – but not before and not later. If we try to push our limits and it’s too early… we fail because we lack knowledge. And if it’s too late, there is simply no value left in achieving what we craved for; even if we succeed, we can’t enjoy our victory or it is no longer relevant.
In conclusion, we do have limits. And the only real choice we have is to test them so as to see how far they stretch. Preferably, we should not procrastinate and do it… Now. The window of opportunity is forever relentlessly moving. And what is valid today might not be so tomorrow.