Accept Your Limitations

One of my favorite Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) lines is from the 1973 movie, Magnum Force. At the end of the movie, just after Harry has sent the last bad guy away with a bomb in the back seat of his car, he says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

This line comes to mind periodically when I am confronted with a new situation. Unless we consciously make an attempt to think about our limitations, we typically have no clue about our limitations, or the limitations of others.

Depending on the situations, we tend to operate at one of two extremes. Either we act as though there is very little we can do, or we act as though we can do anything. Both of these beliefs are incorrect.

Talent is the starting point for success. If we focus our efforts on areas where we do not have ability, and we work hard enough, we are likely to achieve some success. However, ultimately success comes from translating talent into skill through hard work. When our efforts and hard work are consistent with areas where we have skills and talent, our ability to succeed is greatly enhanced.

Simply put, the key to maximizing our success and the reward for our efforts is to match our efforts with areas where we have talent. If we focus our passion and hard work where we have talent, we will live a happier and more rewarding life.

Ignorance about one’s limitations can cause a person to embark on an endeavor with little chance of success. An example is the person who takes – or is put into – a sales position with few, if any, of the skills and abilities needed to sell successfully. While this person may achieve some success through sheer effort, they will also probably live with a high level of stress and a lack of long-term satisfaction. Even if they achieve a measure of success, the price they pay deep inside for what they achieve is likely to be quite high.

When we think we want to embark on a new endeavor (and I really encourage people to try new things), we need to accurately assess our limitations with regard to the mission. If we can identify our limitations on the front end, we can arrange for mentors or advisors, or people to work for us with skills that complement our weak areas.

This is the benefit of teamwork and partnerships. It is central to the biblical explanation to the relationship of a husband and a wife. The concept is that the two people in a marriage have complementary skills and abilities that create synergy in their marriage. In a successful marriage, the weaknesses and limitations of each person are offset and complemented by the strengths of the other.

Good partnerships reflect this concept as well. For many years, I have worked with a company that is owned by two talented partners. They are exceptionally successful because they both allow the other to flourish in their areas of gifting. One of them is more technical and the other more skilled at running the business. The success is due to accepting that each provides specific value to the business. They know that together they are more successful than either could be on their own.

If you have read my articles for very long, you know that I refer to what I call, “The Big Lie.” The Big Lie is what well-meaning parents, teachers and others often tell children: that they can do or become anything or anybody that they want to.

While there is a measure of truth to this statement, the fact is that we can only do or become what we have the talent for and what we are willing to work hard to achieve. No one is magically born into success. Part of the process of achieving success is learning what we are good at and what we are not good at. Doing this allows us to focus our efforts on areas where we have the ability to succeed.

Recognizing our strengths and weaknesses is part of the process of maturing. One of the results of this process is that we become more cognizant of what our limitations are. As we grow, and through the feedback of life, we become more aware of our personal limits.

Personal growth should result in us developing the ability to accept our limitations and act accordingly. When we recognize that the solution to a problem requires skills we don’t have, the appropriate action is to obtain the help we need to get the job done.

However, we all have blind spots in this regard. These blind spots may be in small things, like attempting to do household repairs without having any aptitude for such tasks. Or they may involve more significant things, such as attempting a career change into an area where we don’t have the talent and ability to be successful.

Equally or potentially more limiting to our success is the attitude that we are so unskilled or untalented that we, “can’t do anything.” Or that we can’t do anything well enough to be successful. The fact is, all of us are talented in some area(s). Success in life is achieved by figuring out what our talents are and focusing our efforts on those things.

Knowing our limitations is important to achieving success. For example, many people have the desire to start or own their own business. However, business ownership is not for everyone. Some people are not able to handle the pressures of owning a business, or the long hours, or the need to make timely and quick decisions.

If we know our limitations and act with these in mind, our ability to achieve success is increased. The individual who shies away from owning their own business can be successful in it if they find a good accountant and good outside advisors in other areas.

Fear of testing our limitations can cause us not to take risks. Experiences early in life where risk-taking was punished can make us gun shy about doing anything that is out of the norm. The fear of attempting new things is often based upon a bad experience in a related area earlier in life. It can also result from a failed attempt at a time in our life where we had not developed the skills we have now.

The key is to continuously update our knowledge of our skills and abilities. For most of us, we will find that we have more talent and ability to succeed than we think we do. When we look at things objectively, we are likely to learn that we can achieve what we want to achieve if we have the right kind of support. Then we can develop and implement a plan that will allow us to achieve the success of which we are capable.