Thursday, September 3, 2015

Learning To Fly

At some point after you begin the adventure of learning to fall (a perpetual work in progress if there ever was one), It might be in your best interest to start working on learning how to fly. No, I haven’t lost my mind, and no, I don’t expect you to sprout wings. I try to avoid expectations in general, since expectations tend to just get in the way. I’m more interested in what is, and what I can do about it. In that regard, one thing I suggest we can do about what is, is to not be bound down by what is. Learn to be more than you are, and more than anyone else thinks you are. In short, learn to fly.

“But I’m only human!” How many times have you heard that exclamation used as an excuse for limitations? Yes, you are human. I’m human. Anyone who is reading this is probably human (if, by some odd chance, that is not true, let me know if you might be willing to submit to an interview). Humans built the pyramids, mapped DNA, and put a man on the moon. Being human might not be quite as limiting as some people assume.

There are limits, of course. Let’s make no mistake about that. You are not going to leap tall buildings in a single bound or outrace any locomotives. You’re not even going to live a life free from pain or doubt. You are going to fall down and you are going to make mistakes, but you will also stand back up and you will make corrections. That is the real meaning of being human, not the being bound by limitations, but how we come back from and overcome limitations.

Know your limits. You can’t push past anything if you don’t know where you’re going. Worse, it is difficult to get their safely or in one piece of you don’t know where the hazards and pitfalls might be. The first step in improving yourself is always knowing yourself. This requires observation and honesty, or it won’t do you any good. It is almost always a waste of time and energy to lie to other people, but it can be downright fatal to lie to yourself. Don’t do it. Take a look inside your head, shine that spotlight around, and make an honest appraisal.

If you have a goal to run in a marathon but have a physical condition where one leg is four inches shorter than the other, you might have some additional hurdles to overcome. I’m not saying you can’t do it - I’m no runner, and don’t pretend to be an expert on such matters - but you will have different and extra obstacles to contend with, and it behooves you to address that up front. It is important to know these kinds of things so that you can work your path according to the realities of your path. Don’t miss your goal because you didn’t want to be honest about parts of your goal.

Once you have identified your limits, the next best course of action is to start jumping up and down on those limits and see what breaks. I’m not kidding. You shouldn’t take most things for granted, and that includes your own limitations. I have no doubt that you followed instructions and were completely honest about your limits, but being completely honest is not the same thing as being completely right. We believe things with perfect conviction every day that are wrong. It’s what we do, another one of those things that comes with the package of being human. Faith may have its place, but this is not it. Put your limits to the test and find out whether or not they’re real.

It is advisable to put a bit of thought into the testing process, though. If you are testing the limits of your ability to sing an opera, throw caution to the wind and give it your best shot. At worst you annoy your neighbors and frighten small dogs. If you are testing that limit about leaping tall buildings, however, you might want to make sure you have adequate safety measures on hand first. Always keep in mind the potential consequences of what you are testing, and proceed accordingly. If what you are testing is safe, have a ball. Know yourself and go crazy with it. You might even have fun failing. That happens all the time, really. Failing can be a blast. If what you’re testing is dangerous, though, keep that in mind and take proper precautions.

While you are testing and getting to know your limits, don’t forget to take the time to make certain that they are your limits. Far too often we operate based on limits set by someone else. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning someone else, but not always. Even the well-meaning version is often doing unintentional harm. No one knows you better than you. While that is not always literally true, it is true that no one can test that knowledge better than you. If you make a mistake, you find the mistake in testing, correct the mistake, and then you know more. Anyone setting your limits from the outside doesn’t have that self-testing option, and can’t as dependably correct for discovered errors. You may not always know you best at any specific moment, but you always have the best options for learning you, and that’s what you’re shooting for in all of this.

Don’t accept limits set by someone else, and don’t set limits on someone else. The same rules apply in reverse. Just as they can’t self-test and correct your limits, you can’t self-test and correct their limits. We can all help each other over those limits, though. Nothing wrong with that. I don’t know about you, but if I get to the top of the mountain, I would love to share the view with other people who appreciate the view.

Re-evaluate often. We have already seen how an honest appraisal can still lead you to accept limits that are not real, but even real limits might not be permanent limits. As you grow and learn, things you couldn’t do before may become merely challenging, and things that were challenging may become easy. Nothing is permanent, and that includes limitations. If it matters to you, come back and try again. You may be surprised.

If you’re not surprised, though, that’s okay too. Everyone has limits. That is one reason why it is so important that we work together. What I can’t do, maybe you can, and vice versa. “I’m only human” may not be as limiting as some people believe, but it does have limits. There is no shame in acknowledging and accepting your limits. There may be shame in the opposite. What answer will you give if you cause harm because you would not or could not accept reality, and how will you address that?

If you want to soar, don’t let yourself be held down. Push yourself, and surround yourself with people who will lift you up. Do you have that one friend you always feel dumb around? Ask him to help you learn. Do you have a friend you feel lumpy and out of shape around? Ask her to go running with you? Don’t accept limits just because they exist, and don’t lock yourself into limits that you can change. The first step is always the hardest, but it is your step, and no one can stop you from taking it. No one can take it for you either. If you want to fly, it’s up to you to leap.

It is within each and every one of us to be more than most of us believe. Paradoxically, being more is best achieved through a careful understanding of limits, where they are, where they are not, and whether or not they are even real. Rather than being bound down by your limits, use them as tools to build yourself up. Rather than seeing your limits as obstacles to hold you back, start looking at them as mountains to climb, and when you get to the top, use the tools you have gained to start building some wings. With enough practice, you’ll be flying before you know it.

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