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A man’s got to know his (self-imposed) limitations

March 20, 2017

Perhaps the title of this post is familiar to you as a slight modification to the classic Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” quote (“A man’s got to know his limitations”).

Many people know that I am a runner.  Talking about running the other day led me to think about limitations and how they apply to so much of life.

A couple times a year my son, Nathan, and I run a race together. (Note: By this, I mean we are running in the same race, not “together”.  Nate is way faster than I ever was). The shared experience is great.  There is always plenty of time for talk before the race about race strategy . . as well as life.  And we generally find a way to have a post-race beer or milk shake – or both.

Nate and I were talking about our upcoming big race in May in Fargo, North Dakota.  As we got talking about running, Nate asked me about my training and my goals.  To paraphrase the conversation, upon hearing my modest goal and current SLOW state of training, Nate challenged me.  He told me I could run “that fast” for an entire half marathon (13.1 miles) right now. He continued with saying that another 12 weeks of training ought to make me much fitter and faster. Even though I have only managed to run 3 miles at the goal pace so far, Nate had an entirely different view – I can go faster – even though I am the one experiencing my own training.

It challenges my assumptions about me – and what I am capable of

That is one of the things I love about running, and having someone to talk about running with.  It challenges my assumptions about me – my limitations, my “giving in” to aging, my general attitude.  I “know” what I am capable of. Nate is a 20-something who is a talented runner and still has running potential to fulfill.  The ravages of time have not caught up to him.  Maybe I am right about my running capability.  But waaayyyyy more interesting is this: what if Nate is right?  Might I be self imposing limitations on myself? Might the pain of pushing harder be some artificial barrier?  Might challenging myself to be a little more uncomfortable be a ridiculous barrier?  If I could run a few seconds faster per mile, wouldn’t that be success?

That got me thinking about our self-imposed limitations in all facets of life.  Often these limitations are well meaning.  They are based on facts we have collected and experienced.  They might be the result of learning from hard work. Perhaps we are pushing ourselves to the limit. On the other hand, might that limit be artificial?  We are “too busy” to do something (yet we have time for Facebook).  We are too tired (yet we binge-watch Netflix).  We don’t want to think about some potential change (even though the status quo is sub-optimal). In preparing for a race, it hurts to run a speed workout.  The pain is real.  But might there be more there?  Is there an adjustment – physically or mentally – that might push me a little further to go a little faster?

How about you?  I honestly believe everyone one of us sets a limitation in what we can do, whatever the task we are working on.  Maybe it is a work duty.  Maybe it is a personal goal like connecting with a friend or eating better or more family time. We know, through repeated effort and personal reflection that we have “done our best”.  We couldn’t possibly do any more.  But is that real or is it a mirage?  Is that limitation the result of “giving in”?  Is it some part of our mind or body telling us, “this is all I can do”?  Have we ever paused to scrutinize that thought or feeling? Have we ever spoken it out loud to another person and absorbed their reaction?  I know in my case, it is a mixture between “Nate is nuts, he doesn’t understand how much slower we get when we age” and “Hmmm, maybe I can change my training a little bit to see if I can get faster”.

Now the inner dialogue has changed from “This is my limitation” to “Is there something more?”

The word “limitation” can be defined as something that is the “utmost extent” or as far as we can go.  But it can also be defined as something that “bounds, restrains, or confines” us.  This second definition leaves open the chance that we can break out of the confines we have set.

I would like challenge you to look at something important to you.  What is the limit you have set for yourself?  Might you be able to do it better?  Are you willing to think of it as a limitation, rather than just conceding it is “reality” or “where I am today”? Are you willing to speak about the limitation to another person and consider their feedback? I do not think you have much to lose.  You can try to get past that self-imposed limitation.  If you do, you win.  If you don’t get past the limitation, you still win.  Because you have challenged your own perception and done something about it. Who doesn’t like a win/win situation?

I’d love to hear about a self-imposed limitation you are going to tackle.

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3 Comments
  1. Jenny permalink

    Great post Dean! Thank you.

  2. Rosaleen Waggenspack permalink

    Wow, I really love this post. The hard part is choosing what to focus on.

  3. Nate Waggenspack permalink

    Good post Dad. Very flattered to be considered a “talented runner”. This is definitely an element of my life in many ways. Currently, it shows most strongly in my desire to do more of my own writing, but my self-assessment that I can’t come up with anything interesting to write about. Working on setting deadlines for myself to meet, regardless of what I produce by the deadline.

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