We are limited by several things in life. There are certain givens: how smart we are, how tall we are, who our families were, and that sort of thing. These are generally what we focus on. In math, they would say these are the fixed values. But the equation of life includes infinite variables, the most important of which is our imagination and our ability to be creative. These, in turn, are, at least in my case, limited by what I think is on the menu of options.
My Off-Menu Ordering at Nobu. Yikes!
I recall the first time I ever saw someone order off-menu. I had no idea this was even a possibility. It was at Nobu in Tribeca, decades ago. My dinner partner started ordering all this stuff that I had never heard of. The waiter nodded with knowing approval, assuming my friend was a master cognoscente of sushi, and promptly brought us trays of astounding delights. Of course, ordering off-menu at Nobu has financial consequences, of which I became acutely aware when the check arrived. But the lesson for my young, just-out-of-a-small-town mind was that this possibility even existed. Who knew?
Our Imagination Is Our Main Limitation
There are people who can imagine all manner of things seemingly out of thin air. They have also probably been inspired by something they saw, they read or heard. Steve Jobs was not sitting in a cave when the iPhone popped into his head. What he was able to do was to connect the dots on what might be possible, knowing that there was a lot that could be done that wasn’t being done. But he first had to understand that it would not be impossible. Some things really are impossible today, but many things that we think are impossible are just hard and, if you are like me, we default to thinking these things are undoable. My personal favorite is “It’s never been done therefore it never can be done.” When that voice pops, I tell myself I need a bigger imagination, sort of like Captain Quint in Jaws: “Ay, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Life Has More Options Than We Think
Which brings us back to the menu. Maybe it has a lot more options than we are initially led to believe. The good part of experience is that it informs us. That bad part of experience is that it limits us in what we think we can do: Never done it, therefore it can’t be done. This is why I push back on the wisdom label. I realize this is heresy in some circles, but I don’t feel that wise. I’m 61, and I feel like I am far, far from being wise in any sense of the word.
We Can Do So Much More Than They Tell Us
For 2020, I would like to suggest we make a theme of ordering off-menu. We all have unique experiences and unique capabilities, and we are all limited by what we believe we can do. I can tell you with great certainty, that whatever you think you can do, you can do much much more. It will be hard, but not impossible. My entire life I have not been limited by those fixed values of what I was born with. Nope. My limits have been entirely self-imposed. This is not particularly unique to me. My scope of imagination of what could be on my menu was tiny, an itty bitty speck of what was actually possible. I’m a kid from a single mom who taught school in a small, rural, upstate-New York village. I was small for my age, was told I was of average smarts, and to calibrate my ambition accordingly because I was not going to go very far.
So in 2020, let’s all start ordering more off-menu. Why be limited to what we think we are being offered? It will be hard. Oh yeah, it will. But what do you have to lose? Hard is not impossible, right? Let’s see how far we can really go if we let go of what we have done, and think about what we could do.