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Sakiya Sandifer

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Believe That You Can Do Anything...But Know Your Limitations

Posted: 08/07/09 04:24 PM ET

I know some people might argue that this title is in conflict with itself, as well as it goes against the grain of what we've been taught about believing in ourselves. But over the course of my life, I've learned that not knowing your limitations is often a key factor that brings people down...especially for those who really believe in their own abilities. I find it amazing that our greatest strength, at any given moment, can also be our greatest weakness.

In every success story that I've studied, the common denominator has been that they all tapped into their passions and later their lives were defined by it. I remember watching a Bill Gates interview where he was asked about his drive to make Microsoft what it is today. The interviewer said, "That with your insatiable drive to succeed, it has been said that you would've been successful even if you were selling hotdogs." Bill responded with, "No, I don't think so. I'm not sure that I could sit in a room for sixteen hours straight talking about hotdogs like I do about the possibilities of new technology."

I find the best way to begin to know what your limitations are, is by being completely honest with yourself about your abilities. I never bought into the notion that a person can do something just because they set their mind to it. In order to do something, there's equally something that shouldn't be done. Within every yes there's a no. Regardless of how much they think about it, one can't climb the world's tallest mountain while digging the world's deepest tunnel. I know that sounds overly simplified, but unfortunately, most of us don't get it...including myself at times.

For me, I know that I have a passion to help people and to leave situations better than I found them. It has always been a part of what I do, whether in business or personal situations. Now you would think that's a great thing and there shouldn't ever be a limitation in helping people or leaving a situation better. Well think again my friends, because like everything else in life, it too can be a gift or a curse depending on how it's applied.

Allow me to paint a picture to illustrate my point. As far back as I can remember, every summer was spent swimming at the nearest body of water that my mother could find. By the time I reached my teenage years, I was very confident in my swimming abilities. In fact, my entire family is considered to be above average swimmers.

A lesson of limitations happened my junior year in high school. It was during swimming class when a fellow co-ed had found her self in a section of the pool that exceeded her capabilities. Without thinking, I immediately jumped in to save her. The "without thinking" part is usually where every story goes wrong...and this one is no exception.

I'm sure I got to her in record time and I can still remember thinking how cool it was going to look pulling her to safety. Unfortunately as soon as I reached her, she immediately tried to use me as a stationary floating device. After the fifth attempt of trying to get her to calm down between gasping for air while I was being pushed under, I realized if I kept this up, there will be a need to save two instead of one.

As I made it back to the side of the pool, the gym teacher was pulling her to safety with the ease of the rescue pole. It will be forever burned into my memory how he just looked at me and said..."So what did you just learn?"

What I learned in that moment is that it didn't make a difference of how good of a swimmer I was or that my intentions were to help. I learned that if I don't think things through completely, it could really cost me in the end. I learned that although I knew I had the capabilities to do something, there were limitations to how I could do it.

That lesson was applied the following summer. It was one of those days when the waves of Lake Michigan were clearly too rough for swimming. My mom, being the best swimmer of us all, decided to go out in the water any way. Within a matter of minutes the waves began to overwhelm her so my sister decided to jump in and save her. In the end, both of them had to be rescued by the lifeguard and the only thing that I could think to say to them was..."So what did you just learn!"

Asking, "could you" versus "should you" doesn't necessarily always lead to the same answer. Again, the best way to determine the answer is to be completely honest with yourself about your abilities.