Accept Your Limitations


Readers will already know that I agree with Dr. Laura nine times out of ten.  But even if you don’t, there are some things that I believe are universally helpful, and something she talked about recently inspired me to share.

The original line she referred to was from a Dirty Harry movie in which Clint Eastwood said. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

She talked about how we all have borders, so to speak, the edges that at the same time outline the area between things we really aren’t good at and things we excel at and show us our limits.

She gave the example of some people being built for effective sports competitions while others might train and work hard yet never be as good as another who is naturally gifted in that area.  She talked about accepting our limitations and not comparing ourselves to others, which leads to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment.

I’ve heard these things before, but sometimes when one person puts it in a slightly different way, it’s more effective.  I liked the way she presented the idea of looking at our limitations as a way of determining how to get the most out of our lives in order to be happy.  Here’s a synopsis:

There are things we’re really good at

We should do them as well as we can and enjoy the fact that we’re good at them, without always wishing we were better or as good as another at doing them.

There are things we’re only so-so at doing

We should do them as well as we can without always wishing we were as good at them as we are at doing the things we’re really good at doing.

There are things we just suck at doing BUT …

If we enjoy the process or the activity, we should still do those things and enjoy the parts we can enjoy rather than never doing them just because we can’t be really good at doing them, or as good as someone else is at doing them.

I think most of us tend to avoid doing things we aren’t good at and focus on doing things we do well but spend our time wishing we were even better at doing them.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for improvement along the way because that’s part of the journey and the enjoyment, as long as it still allows us the ENJOYMENT.  But if that constant striving somehow prevents us from actually enjoying where we are and what we’re doing, it’s an obstacle to our happiness, not a tool for our betterment.

This made me think of my own real life examples, how I spend my time, and how I see my limitations in my own mind.  The following activities aren’t the only things that could fit within my borders, but this is just a blog post, not a novel…

So, without trying to sound boastful, I’ll start with what  I’m good at, free motion quilting.

My quilting hobby has sort of taken on a life of its own.  I started out knowing nothing about it, found myself enjoying it, did what I could with what I knew, and then wanted more.  I ventured into different areas to see what I liked, tried some techniques and styles that I loved and some that I didn’t enjoy at all, and have found my niche in a vast world of quilting ideas.  I’ve learned many new things along the way from fabulous quilters and teachers and I admit that at first, I had trouble looking at my work without comparing it to theirs.  I wanted to be able to do what they do, the way they do it. Others would compliment me on what I was doing, but I was focussed on mistakes and imperfections, always wishing I could do something more.

Then I discovered that even though I admired various stitching patterns and could practice them and get them pretty much the way I wanted them to look, I didn’t necessarily enjoy doing them.  I found that others were turning out a little differently than the ideas I was trying to imitate but still looked lovely.  I think this is when I started to realize that we each have our own style of stitching and even if we’re trying something that we’ve seen someone else do, no matter how well we do it, it will still turn out differently because it will have our unique touch.  Quilting is very much about how our brain learns, interprets and executes our stitching.  Our hands are tools.

I’ve also discovered that working within my own abilities and limitations (aging eyes, shoulders/back/neck strain, table size etc.) is where I am now and whatever I can develop within that area is great, and there is always room for improvement within that limited area, but if I were to spend time dreaming of being able to do something that is outside those limitations it would stop me from enjoying what I do.  I could bemoan the fact that even what I am doing now causes me pain in various parts of my body and wish that I had learned at a younger age so that I could have perhaps done different things or be even better at it with more years of practice behind me, but why bother?  I’m enjoying it now, as it is 🙂

I’m not interested in becoming a famous quilter, or a designer or even a competitor.  I just love to quilt and some people buy my quilts and that’s great!  Yes, others who are well known and competing get higher prices for their quilts, but they are also in a place where I don’t think I would be comfortable, and a lot of time is spent traveling, teaching, writing books etc.  I just want to quilt 🙂

I’m not going to buy a bigger house to have a dedicated room for a long arm quilting machine that would allow me to make bigger quilts and not have to sandwich them on the floor (the biggest advantage I can see).  Yes, it would open up new possibilities perhaps, but my physical limitations would still come into play because I couldn’t stand all day at the machine (currently I use a sit down long arm) and there would be a large learning curve going from manipulating the fabric under the needle to manipulating the machine itself  along a track all over the stationary quilt, and while I’m sure with time I would learn, that is time I would have to take away from actually DOING what I now enjoy doing: quilting!  AND I have no need to make huge quilts; I’m happy making lap quilts/throws that accent homes and can be completed in a reasonable amount of time because I get bored quickly and am eager to move on to the next project.  So working within my limitations allows me to do what I love doing, using what I have available to me, whether it’s equipment or physical mobility.

I’m only so-so at photography.

I like the idea of taking great photos and I’ve often wished I could master a technical camera; I have a pretty decent one and I’ve taken a course to find out about all of the settings and features I could put to good use (didn’t complete it).  But I discovered that I really didn’t enjoy all the ins and outs of technical photography and am actually more interested in the photo editing side; I like working on the computer and I would like to learn more about photoshop so that when I take a basic picture I can have fun messing around with it.  But again, this is a so-so area for me.  Learning a program like photoshop takes time and perseverance and I’d rather be quilting.  But I still play with it once in a while when I want to make a poster or design a logo or a picture collage or make something look cool for my website.  I’m not intending to become a photoshop guru.  I don’t aspire to have a photography business.  And I’ve found that my new iPhone camera is pretty cool all on its own and there are classes even for that one so I can stay in an area of basic picture taking that satisfies my own curiosity and needs.  it doesn’t upset me at all that I’m not mastering the fancy camera sitting on my shelf; I can do a few neat things with it when I want to and that’s good enough.

I suck at sports.

I’ve never been athletic.  I remember being signed up for softball as a child because my dad took my brother to registration night and I was along for the ride.  My brother wanted to play ball and I think I must have asked to play because I was caught up in the moment.  I have vivid memories of being in the field and having the ball rolling on the ground towards me and trying to use the method the coach showed us for stopping a grounder.  I sucked at throwing the ball, so I hated it when the ball came to me and I was then responsible for getting it to the right person to complete a play.

My family golfed, and I eventually tried golfing because they were doing it all summer and when they weren’t golfing, they were talking about golfing, so I figured that if I wanted to be part of it I would have to go.  I hated it.  And I’m pretty sure they felt the same way about having me along because I hated being hot and having the sun on me, I hated the endless walking (in my case, back and forth across the fairway, in and out of the trees), the bugs, being lousy at hitting the ball, and I complained…a lot.  It has been suggested that I think of it as a nice walk in nature that happens to involve hitting a ball along the way.  I prefer to think of it as enduring torture because I get lunch at the end.  Over the years I’ve tried here and there and I still suck and I hate it (although I did go once with a friend and hit some good shots, but the enjoyment was the friend time, not the golfing!). I might get a bit better at it if I really worked hard, but I don’t care.

However, as Dr. Laura suggests, we still shouldn’t completely avoid things we aren’t good at if there is some enjoyment in it for us.  We just need to focus on the part we like and allow ourselves to have that without being upset that we suck.  So I’m perfectly willing to meet people at the nineteenth hole for a yummy lunch and a visit!  I will play a game of soccer with a fun group of people just for fun, and I wouldn’t even mind playing baseball with no pressure because having fun with people you enjoy being around is a good thing.  I will never be an Olympian and I’m OK with that.

I also agree with what Dr. Laura said about a lot of this understanding coming with age and life experience.  But she also hopes that younger people might listen and learn so that they can get there sooner than many of us did.  I hope so too 🙂


(If you want to see an inspiring example of what happens when people embrace their limitations and work within them, check out this video on youtube that I came across just this morning.)