I was THIS close.
Many years ago I found myself in position to do something rather unlikely. I was about to beat Russ Lavoie in a tennis match. Unlikely, because, well, I sucked at playing tennis. Russ didn’t suck at tennis. Russ was very good at tennis. He took lessons. He had a coach. He had great equipment. He even had the proper tennis clothing. But there I was, with a borrowed racket, an Aerosmith T-shirt, and a pair of Converse All-Stars, on the cusp of beating the best tennis player I knew.
But then I didn’t.
It started as us just lobbing the ball back and forth. Russ’ dad was there, a rather intense man, and he wanted to make it more meaningful. “Let’s make this a real match.” Right from the start I was outperforming Russ. I don’t even think I knew how to keep score in tennis. But Russ’ dad did, and boy did he enjoy reminding his son that the kid in the Converse All-Stars was getting the best of him. Sort of his way of motivating Russ. And demotivating me at the same time.
To say I was playing way over my head would be an understatement. With no training or coaching somehow I was holding my own and winning far more games than I though possible for me. I was actually up two sets to none, needing just one more set to win the match. As Russ’ dad would remind him he was getting beat by me, as in the me who should never be able to beat a trained and well-coached tennis player, it got me to thinking that maybe I really shouldn’t be able to do what I was doing after all. Maybe dad was right. And eventually I proved him to be so, dropping the last three sets of the match and saving Russ from certain parental humiliation.
Yes, Russ beat me, but on some level I had actually beaten myself.
I thought of this experience when I was reviewing the past year of my life. It’s become a tradition of sorts in the weeks just before my birthday. I conduct a review of the past 12 months. The highlights as well as the lowlights. How did I spend my time? Intentionally or reactionary? Of the things I told myself I wanted to do during the year, what did I actually accomplish and what didn’t I get done?
Overall, it was a very good year of personal growth. But I always have a question for the items on the What Didn’t Get Done list. “Why not?” Why didn’t I get this done? Sometimes there are external factors involved. Sometimes in hindsight I realize I actually didn’t want to accomplish what I told myself I did. Sometimes, though, the painfully honest reason things didn’t get accomplished is I simply didn’t allow myself to.
We can set very specific goals with the absolute most perfect of intentions and develop and implement a consistent action plan to achieve them. But unless we allow ourselves to achieve them we never will.
In my mind, even though I was just a few points away from beating Russ, on some level I knew I wasn’t supposed to. The image and expectations I held for me was inconsistent with what I was accomplishing. At some point the inner voice always wins and we adjust our actions and behaviors accordingly. I told myself I wasn’t supposed to win. And I didn’t.
I found in this year’s annual review some of the things I didn’t accomplish were, in fact, because I didn’t allow myself to accomplish them. The person I would have been had I actually accomplished my goals was different from the person I accepted myself to be. Even with clarity of purpose and actionable intentions, I was unable to sustain the momentum needed to meet my objective. It wasn’t a lack of opportunity or tools or information which did me in. It never is. I wasn’t going to allow certain things to happen.
I’ve become quite comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with myself. Those deep, honest, introspective conversations, free of judgment or blame. Because until I am willing to get to know the deepest me I will never be able to get to the places I know I tell myself I want to go. These conversations uncover the psychological and emotional roadblocks to me moving ever forward. They show me the self-imposed limitations, the walls and fences I’ve subconsciously built to keep myself tethered to what is and keeping me from what could be.
We will never become more than we are willing to allow ourselves to become.
In an unlimited world we all have our own degree of limitations. It doesn’t matter how they got there, what is important is acknowledging that they are actually there. Knowing you have accepted some level of limitation is often very uncomfortable. It requires a level of responsibility and accountability. Who readily accepts the blame that they aren’t where they could have possibly been in their lives?
Knowing you have accepted some level of limitation, though, is also very empowering. Because that’s the starting point to moving past them. If you don’t know you’re stuck, how will you ever unstuck yourself? How will you ever grow forward?
Most of the limits we have are silent, stealthily working behind the scenes keeping us aligned with who it is we tell ourselves we really are. They show up in our habits and behaviors, regulated by the expectations we have set for ourselves. It’s the reason why I’ve never kept off those last 10 pounds, or taken full advantage of certain opportunities I’ve had in my life.
I never allowed myself to do so.
When you look at the highest vision of your life, what’s preventing you from being all that you envision your life could be? Is it the stuff outside of you or is there a little voice telling you that no matter how clear your vision is you’re simply never going to allow yourself to become it?
It’s not an easy conversation to have with yourself. But it’s the only way to move closer to becoming all you were created to become.
And I’m moving closer.
It’s a great day to be you.
photo credit: Aaron Clinard via Unsplash