It’s another of the best worst bits of advice you can give someone. It means well, it’s true, but it’s also false and ignoring it can lead to ruination, pain, and injury.
”There are no limits.”
”The only limit to what you can do is what you put on yourself.”
You see them all the time on motivational posts and calendars- and the annoying thing is that it’s true! In a lot of cases, the only thing holding us back from what we want most is just a couple decisions that we make for ourselves, with no gatekeepers other than ourselves. As soon as you realize that, you are a monumental step closer to living the kind of life you want.
In some cases, though, pretending there are no limits to what you can do can lead to serious, painful problems. Let’s be real here: winners quit all the time, and successful people know when to take (and give!) “No” as an answer. They know their limits. They may test them, even stretch them, but they respect them- because they know that failing to do so can lead to self-destruction.
I am a self-admitted workaholic. My tendency to connect my self-worth with my productivity is a hard habit to break, especially in the broadly-meritocratic culinary world. I may be the pastry chef, but that means I feel the pressure to prove I deserve to be there every day. Couple that with an anxiety-driven desire to cover all possible angles and every possible base, and the result is a built-in need and desire to prove worthiness through a functionally never-ending task list.
In other words, burnout and self-destruction. It literally will never be enough for me to feel like I’ve “finished” or can relax.
Prioritizing doesn’t always work for me in this sense. Prioritizing just means rearranging the order of that never-ending list. Instead, I find myself fighting to go to the heart of my problems and learn a few all-important lessons:
- You can do anything but not everything.
- I am more than what I produce.
- I am good enough at what I do to make everything turn out fine.
Learn these lessons for yourself and learn your limits- or your limits will introduce themselves to you, usually painfully and quickly.
I’ve been rather slack on my fitness as of late. A distracting management job, health problems, and anti-anxiety meds will do that to you. A couple days ago, when I finally felt motivated to really go hard on exercising again, I tackled my old Gotch’s Bible routine and wound up overworking my arms.
As you can guess, having functioning arms is pretty important for a baker. I took some painkillers when I woke up sore the next morning and went to work. For nearly eleven hours I lifted, scooped, kneaded, cranked, and kept my body moving. “Of course I’m feeling a little sore,” I said. “I’m getting back on track.”
The next day I went running and doubled down on my commitment to get back in shape by picking up healthy snacks, new protein shake mix, and a stimulant-free preworkout mix. Yeah my arms were still killing me a bit, but now I could exercise in the afternoons without jacking myself up all night with caffeine! I had to try it out. Surely a quick 20-minute sandbank routine couldn’t hurt after the run.
Spoiler alert- it did. The next morning my arms and legs were screaming for me to stop. My legs nearly locked up the next day as I tried to run, and my arms didn’t even want to support me through yoga.
Maybe with a little more time to get back into the swing of things, my body will be used to that kind of exertion again. That will come with carefully pushing what I’m capable of each day. It won’t come from acting like I can go as hard as I did a surgery, a pandemic, and a mental breakdown ago.
Limits don’t get pushed by will alone. They expand with effort, compassion, and patience- not by pretending you are Superman.
We are not machines. We need to eat, breathe, sleep, shit, and love in order to do the kind of work no machine can do. Let’s not kill ourselves trying to imitate our inferiors.