Testing Limits

Brainy Quote is like crack for people that like to think. As part of my 9-5, I have to spend several hours every week finding inspiring quotes from all manner of individuals, including Presidents, Royals, Business-people, Psychologists, and Philosophers. I’ve run across hundreds of quotes that I like and want to do more thinking on, but rarely have the chance to unpack those quotes and really explore them.

One of the ones I found was by M. Scott Peck, a Psychiatrist from New York, and it reads “one extends one’s limits only by exceeding them.”

When I first found this quote, I took pause, as I often do when I happen upon a profound statement on the interwebs. I find it profound, because it illustrates that the only boundaries we really have, are those we set for ourselves, or those set by society. Of course, many of these boundaries are extremely important; after all, the boundary we set against walking outside naked likely originated from ancient proto-civilizations not wanting to die of exposure. True, in some places like South America where uncontacted tribes live they are often found in minimal clothing, and it works there because the temperature range is never, or at the very most rarely, outside a livable range for human beings. On the other hand, the likelihood you would have found a member of the Inuit running around without serious protection from the elements is close to zero.

Others on the other hand, are less important and are either placed upon us by what our parents feel is morally correct, or what the general society around us feels is morally correct. It’s also not entirely probable that many of these boundaries are nothing more than arbitrary, set by some unspoken agreement because someone was made uncomfortable by it. For example, most salespeople will not call friends or family to make a sale, unless the friend or family member solicits the call. This is understandable to a degree; not wanting to mix business and pleasure, another “best practice” by most standards I’ve seen, prevents misunderstanding and helps you keep friends. No one likes being sold something every time they see their sibling or their best friend.

On the other hand, it also keeps the salesperson from practicing in a “safe” manner. True, the salesperson could ask to practice on their friend, but since most people aren’t willing to dish out tough love or tell a friend or family member that their script is garbage, it doesn’t amount to helping a whole lot. Instead, if a friend is in sales and asks to practice, especially if you yourself are in sales, you should offer the opportunity and provide constructive feedback, even if that feedback hurts a little. Some pain can be cathartic when combined with an honest and well-meaning critic.

It goes beyond generally accepted social limits as well; after all, we all have limits to what we like to do. Everyone has a comfort zone that they live in, and we are hard-wired to try and stay in that comfort zone even if that comfort zone is detrimental to our goals. I’m certainly not immune to this, and I’ll admit that I struggle every day to push myself out of that comfort zone. Dan Lok, Serial Entrepreneur and King of High Ticket Sales(TM) likes to say that “you have to get comfortable, being uncomfortable.” This means that to progress, to learn, to take that next step on our mission to succeed in whatever we decide we want to succeed in, we have to be willing to leave our comfort zone and take a measure of risk.

This past Saturday, I left my comfort zone and assisted at the Lodge to run the Square and Compass Club’s Bingo night. As Free and Accepted Masons, we use the profits from such operations to fund both the necessary expenses of the lodge, like keeping the lights on, and any excess from that program gets donated to various local charities at the end of the year. As an introvert, I often find such situations incredibly uncomfortable, just as I did when I put the blindfold on to become initiated (don’t worry, the blindfold isn’t a Masonic secret; you can find pictures of it on Wikipedia). Surrounded by people I don’t know, learning terminology I wasn’t familiar with, and a register that was set up in a unique manner, it was a struggle to focus from time to time. Focus can often become difficult, when you want to retreat into your shell.

So I steeled myself, aided by the cold and the fact that I was foolish enough not to bring a sweater (family was kind enough to delver those later in the evening), to learn what needed to be learned and accept any mistakes I made. Which were several. I accidentally tore Bingo Card books at the wrong place, sometimes ripping up pre-stacked “sets” of cards, punching the wrong number on their admission tickets, sometimes forgetting to charge for something. Thankfully, both the Worshipful Master and the patrons were very patient with me as I stumbled through this wholly unfamiliar territory. In most cases, when you do something for the first time, if you’re candid about the fact that you’ve never done it before, the people involved will have more patience.

Thus I successfully made it through the night, even though the entire time I felt as if I was out of my element. Although handling money and offering customer service is far from new to me, this particular type of customer service is by far much different than any I’d experienced giving in the past. Having never worked at a casino, and as there are members of my family that have gambling addictions, I don’t gamble save an occasional lottery ticket, it felt as though I was walking through a mine field. The important thing is that I succeeded in lasting the night without panicking, leaving early, or leaving work unfinished. In April when my turn to assist Square and Compass yet again comes up, I’ll be better prepared to help.

The most important thing to remember while doing anything is outright success is unimportant. You aren’t required to succeed the first time you try something you aren’t comfortable with. You are required to give it your best attempt, and if you fail, and you likely are because you’re not skilled in it yet, you try again. You continue to make yourself uncomfortable until you can successfully do the thing you set out to do. Then you continue to practice until you are comfortable doing it. That is when you’ve truly succeeded.

Now this doesn’t mean you ignore important warning signs and fears, considering fear is what keeps us from doing something that is phenomenally stupid; but not all fear is created equal. You can’t learn to skydive without jumping out of a plane. You can’t learn to rappel without hooking onto the rope and jumping off that cliff. You won’t sell without making a call. You won’t become known to a person unless you introduce yourself. These are all pushing boundaries of comfort, exceeding your limits to push them back. It is the foundation of courage, and without courage to push limits, you will do nothing but stagnate. Stagnation, is just another word for death.

The next time you’re faced with the choice of staying in your comfort zone, or doing something that will expand your abilities, help others (or an organization you’re with), or teach you something, consider taking the step and seeing where it leads you. Sometimes you’ll land on your face, and that’s okay. Sometimes, however, you’ll expand your horizons.

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