I came across a quote on Linked In the other day and it landed with a gut-punch; “Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits” (Jerry Dunn). It perfectly, and succinctly, describes a very human reaction to being (or trying not to be) overwhelmed. All at once I could feel the energy I used to resist anything that was even remotely disruptive, and what it cost me to be so fixated on protecting the status quo. Curiosity, growth and well-being become collateral damage when our first response is one of resistance. How much of the energy we use in a day is directed towards reducing disruption, protecting future well-being, at the cost of our well-being in the present?
A large part of this is driven by assumptions and expectations. It sounds like this: “Nope, no thank-you I cannot take on anything further right now, I am barely managing with what I have now. Thank-you, goodbye.” It’s a lot like chasing a door-to-door salesperson off your door-step, you aren’t even listening to what they have to say, you just want them to go away. Trying to stay ahead of whatever challenges interrupt your day (so they cause no more time-suck, de-motivation, or loss of focus) is an unforgiving process; meaning it just never ends…and it doesn’t actually work. It assumes you are always at a limit of some kind.
Once disrupted, you cannot un-disrupt yourself. The resistance you throw up to counter the challenge is often more disruptive and demanding than listening thoughtfully to the challenge in the first place, and being at your “limit” has a nasty side effect – it disconnects you from being your best self…from being fully present and open to what is really going on. We forget that listening, being open to what is going on is not the same as saying “yes” to more work or to being overly accommodating. What listening does give you are options. Listening means you have more information, and then you can consider it for action, allowing you to see not only disruption, but understand what may in fact be an opportunity.
Challenging your limits sounds a lot like embracing chaos, but it is less about being so open you overwhelm yourself, and more about being fully present in your work, so you can be more understanding with what is happening, because opportunity is often disguised as a challenge. You can miss that next great career move, or damage a valuable connection, without meaning to when you operate from a place that feels at the edge of your limits. When you’ve listened, been open to exploring, you are no longer teetering on an edge, but giving yourself room to maneuver. And if you do need to say “no” you will be more credible and more compassionate in doing so, keeping your relationships intact, possibly even strengthening them. Challenging your limits means you pause long enough to understand what it is all about before deciding what to do.
“We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges” ~ Anonymous