4 Surprising Limitations That Improve Your Life

Let me start with the biggest one.

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Photo by Kristopher Roller

1. A backpack is more than enough.

Late August 2017, my family was experiencing the second night of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. Flooding spared our home the first day. That night was different, the water from the skies sprinted with Usain Bolt intensity. My wife and I made contingency plans. We mentally mapped our way to high ground from home. We packed a bag pack. And mentally prepared our young girls. They understood.

At first light, I ventured out to gauge the water level and to unclog water drains –if any. The rain had slightly ebbed. The street was flooded as far as I could see. The water crested over most of the driveway. I looked up — there was atleast one person in front of every other home — assessing the same. Neighbors were waving- checking if the families are doing good, are roofs and backyards holding up — in that order.

They say, in big cities — proximity blurs human connectivity and makes you anonymous. All I experienced that morning was the rustic, small town feel.

The warmth of the morning could not dampen the din of the night.

While packing during the night, what hit me was the essence of essentialism — written by Greg Mckeown. What matters could be filled in a small section of a bag pack! Never paused in life to think about it — I was doing it. Life has a way of doling out ah ha moments.

Now, the second most important.

2. They are ‘only’ 24 hours in a day. Wow — that is awesome.

In 2006, I picked up a book by Robin Sharma — the title sounded interesting- The monk who sold his Ferrari. As I was reading through it, one thought made me sit up — “what if today is your last, how will you live it differently?”

That thought deftly tilted my perspective. I have been noodling on it ever since. And I spotted a trend.

Through the years, my vision of what I would do on a given day changes. What is a blur looking forward is lucid and crystal clear when I look back later. Or as Steve Jobs famously echoed at Stanford Commencement speech — “dots connect after the fact.”

What is true for you and me is true for our elderly on the throttles of their life journey. Their regrets are a powerhouse of insights. What happens if you can poll a pool of them?

A nurse Bronnie Ware interviewed them and collated exactly that — their dazzling array of life yearnings. Here is the essence.

1. I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard

3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

5. I wish I had let myself be happier

For the 24 hour limit — the 5 wishes provide me with clarity of purpose — my guiding light to make it an awesome day.

From belonging to time to now — fear.

3. Public speaking is the number 1 fear. That fear is a perfect starting point.

Forget the word ‘public’ before the word speaking. Most of us are unsure what to speak in a two way conversation and that extends to writing too.

August 2014, I decided to take the plunge to write. That fear, knots in the stomach, does something to all of us.

I shared with my mother that I plan to blog. She gave it a quick thought and said, “Son, one advice — do not advise.” The assuredness of her voice on the phone threw me out of balance. I asked her, “Can you elaborate more?” She added with a smile, “No matter which part of the world and irrespective of language, when given a pen and paper, people have a proclivity to become authority figures on do this and do not do this.” She added, “Just share your experiences, trigger the reader’s curiosity and let the audience draw their own conclusions, respect them as individuals and they will in turn respect you.”

All I did to improve my connectivity was to wrap the content around her sage words — “focus on what is of great value to others but less cost to you.”

If sharing experience and adding value do not intersect, I fall back on the famous words:

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” — Maurice Switzer in Mrs. Goose, Her Book, 1907.

Yep, speaking and writing are overrated in the real world.

4. Limitations create masterpieces.

Constraints craft creativity is one truth. Limitations light up our productivity is the other truth. Sometimes, just sometimes — you end up with your masterpiece.

Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett would have never guessed what was in store for him on a nice 1975 day. Tim Harford shared the background in his TED talk.

Due to quirk of circumstances, Keith was staring at an unplayable piano. The keys stuck, the pedals didn’t work, and the piano was too small to support the size of the hall.

The young concert promoter pleaded with him to do the sold out concert. “Just for you”, is all he said before walking on stage.

He avoided the upper registers, he pounded the keys to ensure reach to the audience at the back. The unusual performance constrained by the unrelenting piano endeared the audience.

His work that day became the all-time best selling piano album.

My limitations did none of that. It did this though.

Recently, my daughters and I were discussing prefixes and words. It spawned into the importance of knowing what is unimportant. I could articulate succinctly what is important that needs to go into a bag pack on an emergency day. I felt immense clarity. Clarity that would have been hard pressed eight months ago without the six+ feet of water that poured.

The limitations of the backpack actually set me free to feel what is important — two free hands to guide my two young daughters to safety.

Saluting the unlimited benefits of limitations,

Karthik Rajan

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Stories to fuel your mind. Theme: life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. Goal: Warm tone, solid content, crisp stories. About me: one google search away.

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