Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Accept No Limitations (Part 1)

One of my recent engaging sources of inspiration is the book The Sportsman: Unexpected Lessons from an Around-the-World Sports Odyssey by writer/photographer (and a recently-retired professional America football player), Dhani Jones. The author chronicles his adventures and observations of challenging himself by immersion of foreign cultures (through engaging in traditional athletic competitions and learning about himself through conscientious globe-trekking). He reflects on how his new adventures have produced personal discovery and growth.
Dhani Jones emphasizes the importance of not letting others' preconceptions and perceptions limit what one is capable of achieving. These limitations can be culturally-ingrained, based on existing stereotypes, or self-imposed. Quoting from the book:

"You don't have to buy into the propaganda, the stereotypes, or the shortfalls people put before you."
I couldn't agree with this sentiment more. One of the worst things that I ever believed was to stunt my personal growth and desire for learning by buying into the limitations that others had imposed upon me. Believing the toxic hype about what I was and wasn't capable of achieving, through beliefs of outsiders and perpetuation of stereotypes, played a role in my failure to realize and achieve my goals. There were so many damaging negative talk which others try to impose. After realizing that none of these claims are credible, I realized that believing in the hype helped me place mental roadblocks in the path of following my ambitions, whether in work or life.
Here are some fine examples of limiting comments:
"You don't have the experience to do this."
Experience is actualized through diligently learning and transforming the knowledge into tangible results. Unless you're going to take away my drive to learn and practice what I've learned (by coersion, force, or decree), nothing is going to get in the way of my desire to acquire knowledge and gain understanding and experience.
"You don't have the authority to do this."
This sounds like what someone who is fixated on org charts and roles would say. If I held the belief that wanting to learn and doing the right thing were secondary to knowing my place in the pecking order of the universe, I would have never experienced what it feels like to think outside the proverbial box.
I've absorbed many useful professional development-related wisdoms while attending conference events that were geared towards management, even though I'm not in that role. I didn't let my job title stop me from learning from and engaging with others.
Recently I witnessed a ghastly two-vehicle collision outside a bar where some friends and I were relaxing and chilling. Without giving much thought, while other bar patrons rushed to the aid of the injured motorists, I ran up a block up the street and started redirecting traffic from middle of a busy two-lane avenue, until the police arrived ten minutes later to take over. I didn't let my lack of authority stop myself from doing what I felt was the right thing to do.
"You're not high up in the organization or important enough to do this."
Again, this sounds like something that a hierarchy-obsessed hater would proclaim. Maybe I'm blessed with cool upper management, but I have built relationships with many people who are "higher up in the food chain" and networked with others in the organization who work in different areas. Last time I checked, that's called "networking." From what I've learned, those high-level folks seem more interested in my ideas and what I have contributed, than my ability to memorize the organizational hierarchy. I have received praises from past bosses for the quality of my work and for building relationships--not for having memorized who reports to whom.
Using team sports as an analogy, I don't ever recall a third-stringer or a bench player on a professional team refusing to achieve remarkable results when given a chance, simply based on her or his position on the depth chart.
"You weren't born to do this."
Of course I wasn't. In the year I was born, none of the technology that I use in the pursuit of my passions existed back then! Same goes for my occupational field.
"You're not cool enough to do this."
I'm not cool enough to buy into what others dictate what I can or cannot do. I'm glad that ignorance paid off back in my youth. I don't recall any other socially-awkward Dungeon & Dragons-playing 110-pounders deciding to try out for the high school football team the following year. The varsity letter jacket, which I still have in my closet, is a nice symbolic reminder of what happened when I defied stereotypes and expectations.
There are other expressions and toxic beliefs that haters love to declare. They will be myth-busted in a future blog post. There is another wisdom from Dhani Jones from The Sportsman which shatter the notion of what one can and cannot do:
"I removed the words 'I can't' from my vocabulary and went to work."
Now, that's how I like to roll.

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