Most people recognize that as they get older they start to slow down; or at least their bodies start to slow down. There’s less they can do and there are more things slowly seizing up. Recently I had a friend jokingly comment that they were ok with the minor aches and pains, and the crick in their neck was not that big a deal because as they said, “Hey, I’m 53 now and things are starting to break down.”
As they get older people start to understand their bodies better as well as getting smarter about what they do. In short, they know their limits. Maybe it’s not staying up as late, not eating everything they want, or not jumping into that pickup basketball game like they used to. As a result of this self-imposed limiting they are able to do more and do it better. This seems counterintuitive. Self-limiting should mean less gets done and more experiences are lost right? In reality, once they start restricting themselves and understanding their own limits they can push themselves within those boundaries and experience life more fully. I find this truth to be insightful for many other aspects of life as well, both personally and professionally.
Let me share what I mean. I titled the post Know Your Limits. I tossed around several different ideas but finally settled on this. Originally I wanted to express the idea of self-awareness and how knowing what you were good at would equate to being capable of doing things excellently. Ultimately being excellent, being known for doing excellently is important to our feelings of self-worth and personal value. We want others to recognize our talents and skills. We want to feel as though we’re accomplishing something worthwhile and in our hearts we want to feel that we are providing value to those around us. This lead me down the path thinking about what helps us accomplish those feelings.
I began to think about the next logical level from the end result of doing something with excellence. How do we do something excellent? Well we have to be able to do it “right”. There’s usually two ways of doing something ‘right’ – either through training or natural ability. However, even those natural abilities and talents need to be cultivated and refined. This requires work and time spent improving, tweaking, adjusting our practice until the end result is clean, polished, and excellent.
Next in the progression involves looking at how many different things we’re working on. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. As I just shared, every talent or ability requires work and time. Time. I’ve talked about it frequently on my blog in the past because of the critical role it plays in everything we do and every journey we undertake. And here again we see time becoming an integral factor in our path to excellence. If we recognize that time is the only asset we can’t beg, borrow, steal, store, or create more of then we need to think about all those way we are consuming it. This means we have to consider how many different things we’re working on and the time required to be excellent. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the commonly shared almost anecdotal 10,000 hours rule. If not, a quick Google search will reveal a number of helpful posts on the subject. I’m not going to question the legitimacy of the post, or the specifics of the claim. But it provides a good basis to help shape our thinking.
10,000 hours. If we look at the average life expectancy we find there are approximately 689,412 hours in life. We then find that we spend about 90,228 hours working in a typical life. If we ignore the fact that there are probably a dozen other demands on our time even at this somewhat unrealistic view of our time we still only have approximately 9 things we can truly master in a lifetime. (90,228/10,000 hours). Wow. That is not a lot. And yet, how many of us, myself included are trying to be excellent at dozens (if not more) of different things? We believe we can beat the system and be excellent at everything we do. Some of this is natural human optimism. But if we can recognize this temptation to be overly optimistic and idealistic then we can begin to cultivate and refine our talents in a more achievable way.
And so we return to the title of this post and the goal we want to accomplish. In order to be excellent, in order to do things right, in order to be successful we have to recognize and build the right foundation. We have to know our limits.
It’s incredibly hard to be this self-aware. In business it’s incredibly hard to stay focused on those few areas where you can truly be excellent. As you get closer to achieving excellence others will begin to recognize your differences and your ability to rise above. When they do they’ll begin to use and promote you and your brand…and they’ll want you to solve all their problems. This is the trap many fall into. Those problems will start to creep outside those areas you have focused on and become excellent in performing. If you know your limits and the limits of your business you’ll be prepared to answer these requests the right way. Of course there are ways your business will continue to grow and adapt and become better but prepare your customers by making them aware of what they are requesting and your current abilities in those areas. Share your limits. Don’t be afraid to grow but also don’t be afraid to share your current strengths and weaknesses. Your customer’s will respect and appreciate that even in this you are doing things excellently.
Let me know if as you have read this post you’ve thought of other ways knowing your limits is beneficial to your success. I think the concept of time management, efficiency, and self-awareness are all critical elements for ultimately being excellent. Are there important elements? Are there other benefits to being self-aware and knowing your own limits? I look forward to seeing what you think.