Argue for Your Limitations and They’re Yours

As I was listening to a visiting friend talk about her life over lunch, I was reminded yet again of how she’s painted herself into a comfy corner of “I can’t.”

I’ve known this friend for 25 years. What attracted me to her originally was her adventurous spirit. When she wasn’t home hobnobbing with famous authors, international journalists, and heads of state, she was traveling the world. She was politically active and spiritually seeking. In other words, she was full of life.

Fast forward to today, and that person is nowhere to be found. As we were talking, or rather as I was listening to her complain about all the things about her life with which she’s dissatisfied, and all the things she can’t do, and all the reasons why she can’t do them, I was inwardly feeling sad for her. I’ve learned not to try to offer ideas anymore, as that just brings another barrage of “that wouldn’t work because,” and “you don’t really understand the problem” responses.

Actually, I understand her problem very well: She’s become paralyzed by fear. She’s considerably older than I, with no family to speak of. She’s all she has. So she doesn’t want solutions or ideas, because that would mean she’d have to make changes. She’d have to step outside of her comfort zone to try something new. She’d have to take a calculated risk. She believes she can’t afford to make a mistake, so she suffers a fate of being trapped by her own self-imposed limitations.

While I don’t hold much hope for her life changing, the conversation did serve as a potent reminder for what I don’t want to let happen to my life — or to Cait’s. So when Cait got home and started complaining about why she wasn’t good at fractions, she got an earful about what happens when we argue for our limitations, and an afternoon of breaking down fractions in a way that she could understand: we built a kitty box and a bird house using fractions to measure, and we baked a cake using fractions to measure, and… she finished her homework with a smile on her face.

Life’s too short to make bedfellows of our fears.

13 thoughts on “Argue for Your Limitations and They’re Yours”

  1. I can so relate to your friend’s current state of mind. For me, the fear is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…events I thought were long since dead and dealt with, were re-triggered by a series of catastrophic events over a 7 year period and it has been as though I have literally “lost” myself. As I write this, I am struggling to “remember” who I “was” ….that woman who once lived with the confidence she could handle whatever came her way. The woman who didn’t want to miss a minute of life! I feel myself getting only so far before I turn and retreat. It is humiliating and frustrating. Just LOVE her.
    She needs it more than you will ever know. She can’t find herself anymore….she feels so very lost. It is like a walking death. I’ve been in counseling, and we don’t know why it is taking so long….it just is. It is not always as simple as mind over matter in a complex issue with our brain.

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  2. Karen, as has already been said, your daughter is very lucky to have a mother who is conscious of self-imposed limitations.

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  3. Karen, I’ve challenged her fears many times in the past. She’s wedded to them. I’ve accepted that.

    I’ve come to believe that it’s a fool’s errand to think that we can change another. We can only change ourselves.

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  4. I’ve met many people like your friend. It’s difficult to be around them: I begin to feel tired and dragged down. I try to be compassionate yet part of me is irritated – I want to say, Wake UP! Life is too short!

    Learning to let go of fear and expanding your comfort zone are difficult things to do but so worthwhile.

    Very thoughtful post.

    Michelle: I feel the same way as you regarding blogging and writing and getting myself out of my comfort zone. We ARE doing something creative and inventive! Yeah, it’s not earth-shattering but for me, it’s rockin’ my emotional world.

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  5. That is very sad. And it must be so hard as her friend to sit back and watch. Luckily, even though we’re supposed to learn from our own mistakes we can usually learn from each other’s too.

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  6. Interesting. I wish I knew more about her. I’ve loved how blogging and my subsequent writing career has put me out of my comfort zone. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something creative and inventive (though not exactly earth-shattering!)

    Thanks for another good post.

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  7. I get very frustrated with those kinds of conversations too. I used to consider being a psychologist, but realized I get impatient with people who just want to talk about their problems, but don’t ever make the effort to make changes. It’s ironic too for someone like that who has no family. Shouldn’t that give her more freedom to be adventurous and create her own reality?

    I like the way you used the conversation as a way to help Cait.

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  8. I would hate to die not knowing what “could have been” if only I had had the guts to make a change.

    Good for you for being a wonderful mom and teaching your daughter by example (instead of making her anguish through her homework).

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  9. Amen! There are enough people out there willing to pull you down so don’t do it to yourself.
    Glad you and Cait found a cool way to explore fractions. :)

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  10. It’s sad that she’s missing out on so many wonderful possibilities. I totally understand the comfort zone thing but life is just too short.

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