Door Number Seventeen: Pushing Your Limits

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” ~Bruce Lee

Be it Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances after a comeback from cancer or Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL in record time there are plenty of examples of people in our society pushing themselves to the limit. It’s easy to go through life always playing it safe. Avoiding pushing one’s self too hard out due to a fear of failure or causing unneeded, self-imposed harm. However, it is important we are not too afraid to attempt to transcend these perceived limitations. By taking the opportunity to test ourselves and opening this door we improve the quality of our lives in a number of important ways.

Every successful attempt at pushing ourselves beyond our limits expands our potential. Anyone who has run a race knows the key is to push towards finishing at all costs. While you may start at a low distance like a 5K, over time stamina and confidence increases and before you know it you may be running a 10K, half-marathon, or even the fabled full marathon. The problem with holding back and staying in one’s comfort zone is it creates an insurmountable ceiling. When we take the risk and succeed, any perceived barrier is pushed back. We realize the bar is not as low as we set it giving us the opportunity to strive higher than ever thought possible.

Failing at reaching beyond our limits makes us more resilient. The obvious reality of pushing ourselves to the edge of the possible is there is a great potential for failure. This lack of success does not have to be a bad thing. Every time we attempt the impossible and fall short we become better at accepting failure. An acceptance that encourages us to continue forward even when it seems unlikely we will succeed. After all, it took losing an arm for Luke Skywalker to achieve the heights of Jedi mastery needed to defeat the Empire.

Pushing our limits not only improves the quality of our own lives but can serve as inspiration to those around us.  As is illustrated in the previous points, win or lose there is a great deal of personal gain from challenging our limits. What may be forgotten as we attempt to better ourselves is we have the potential to inspire others to similar success. From Luke Skywalker to Rudy, people have been drawn to stories of underdogs becoming more than their meager backgrounds would suggest. When others see us succeed at something once thought beyond our capabilities a sense anything is possible arises. By shooting for the moon, we empower others to do the same.

We must push ourselves to the limit not only to increase our potential through our successes, but to learn the resiliency gained from failure. In addition, by opening this door we have the potential to inspire others to do the same. While it is quite possible we will come up short or become too overwhelmed, its vital we try. And while we should accept our limitations, it is even more important we continue to believe we can overcome them. So while the wisdom of Yoda would dictate we must always do or do not , and that trying is just another word for failure, in this case we should ignore the wise little green muppet and continue our efforts at striving towards the impossible.

 

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Door Number Fifteen: A Healthy Sense of Competition

“Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly. Taste the relish to be found in competition – in having put forth the best within you.” ~Henry J. Kaiser

Competition permeates all levels of our society. From the day we are born we are put in situations that put us in direct opposition to others. When we’re young we battle for the best toy. As we go through the rigors of the education system we strive to get the best grades to get us into the best schools. The job hunt puts us in direct conflict with others who we must beat out for the job. We even spend our free time and money engaged in activities centered around the clash of opposing forces. While there are plenty of dangers inherent with being overly competitive (just talk to any Minnesota Vikings fan), there are a number of reasons maintaining a health dose of competitive fervor in one’s life is a door that should be opened.

Competition is a motivating force. While in a perfect world we would all be inspired to do great things simply based on our ideals and values, sometimes we need a little push. Knowing there is someone else trying to do what we are doing either before or better than we do it creates a sense of urgency that pushes us to work harder and faster than we might otherwise. Take out the contest, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just about an aimless teen who dates a couple of girls and then goes back to being directionless. In fact, take out the sense of battle and most heroes (both fictional and real) would probably have settled for the safer path of mediocrity.

Competition teaches us how to work with a diverse amount of people: especially those we disagree with. The thing about opposing others is it puts us in situations where we are forced to deal with people we want to fail and often don’t agree with. The key to these situations is learning how to remain on positive terms with these individuals when the area of conflict is over. By learning to leave our feelings of rivalry in whatever arena it resides we are able to work with people we may otherwise have conflict with. Giving us the edge needed to survive in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world.

Competition teaches us how to deal with disappointment. Ideally, we would emerge victorious from every challenge that comes our way. Unfortunately, a great deal of the time we instead suffer at the hands of defeat. However, just like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire Strikes Back, only by tasting the bitter medicine of a crushing loss do we learn how to cope with the inevitability of disappointment. Which is why we must seek out competition from time-to-time. By learning this coping mechanism we are able to bounce back and return to the game when it really matters.

Opening the door of competition is an important stop on our journey to finding our 50 doors because it serves as a motivating force, teaches us how to work with those we disagree with, and gives us the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the disappointment found in life. While becoming obsessed with winning is not a good idea, its important to have the drive to succeed. We must go into every situation with the desire to come out on top. That way, even if we come up short there will be no doubt we gave it everything we had.

 

Door Number Seven: Spiritual Satisfaction

“We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The concept of spirituality is layered with levels of complexity far beyond the average person’s understanding. For some it is ascribed to a specific religious dogma, including everything from Christianity to Buddhism. While for others it is achieving a level of inner peace achieved through a combination of meditation and philosophical study. Even for those who adhere to a life of non-spiritually, and choose to rely on the principles of scientific, rational thought as their governing force this guiding force too could be conceived as a form of spirituality. How we open this door is unimportant, as long as we make the effort to do so.

One’s spiritual journey is paramount to understanding what motivates us. At its core, pursuing this philosophical base is at the center of everything we do. Without it, we are merely going through motions dictated to us by a parade of outside forces. Whether it be society, peer influences, or media representations of happiness there are a number of things that seek to guide our lives. When we discover our personal spirituality, we are able to identify what is most important and base our actions around it. This realization enables us stay focused on the goals and tasks vital to our personal satisfaction.

Having a solid spiritual base enables us to handle the uncontrollable events that arise from the natural chaos of the world. The best laid plans can be thrown in to turmoil without a moments notice. Tragedies like terminal illness and the sudden death of a loved one sneak up on us like some sort of ninja assassin. This can leave us with a feeling of despair and a sense that the only justice in an unjust world is chance.  All Dark Knight references aside, the key to overcoming this darkness is having a sense there is something larger than mere survival guiding our life. That even though we may not be able to control everything that happens to us, as long as we persevere and adhere to our own personal code it is possible to carry on.

Striving towards some type of spirituality is central to becoming the best versions of ourselves. Most forms of philosophical and spiritual guidance are heavily focused on creating a moral code of guiding principles. This process forces us to examine our individual strengths and weaknesses at a level possibly never experienced otherwise. It causes us to question our initial reactions. To truly think about why we act the way we do. Look beneath the superficiality of our existence to the deeper concepts that govern our life. Many times it enables us to reach beyond our perceived mental and emotional limitations to become a more well-rounded person capable of interacting with the world around us in a way never before possible.

Spiritual understanding is a key element to living a full life. Whether it serve as a way to better understand our motivations, a method for dealing with the uncertainty surrounding us, or a means to self-improvement, it is door that will lead to greater fulfillment. I am sure there are many who will read this and scoff at the notion that spirituality is necessary to satisfaction.  However, by rethinking our notions of what defines our spirituality and how it can be bolstered through our personal experiences, one might find such a journey well worth the effort. And of course there is always the chance that spiritual understanding could lead to one becoming a Jedi. A lofty goal we all should aspire to.

Door Number Six: Chasing the Long Shot

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” ~Paulo Coelho

In life it is often wise to take the safe bet. If given the choice, most of us would probably avoid the risky path in favor of the more stable and likely option. It’s why mountains of resources are dedicated to things like risk management. We take out insurance policies on everything from our cars to our lives. Leaving nothing to chance. I’ve already written about why stepping outside this comfort zone is necessary from time to time. However, even if you are not prepared to embark on such a journey, it is important to always have something that isn’t safe or a sure thing. Opening this door and betting on the long shot is advantageous for a number of reasons.

It provides us with a sense of hope. The problem with playing it safe all the time is it is easy to take for granted things will work out every time. Unfortunately, even actions with a high chance of success can fail. And when they do, we inevitably feel a greater sense of despair. After all, when we sacrifice the bigger prize for a smaller one out of a need for certainty, things become less about the “what if” and more about getting what we are entitled to. Inversely, when we take the big risk from time to time we allow ourselves to hope for something more. As a certain United States President demonstrated, hope can carry one a long way in life.

It teaches us to make mistakes. One of the hardest things to do is to fail. Many of us avoid doing anything that would cause us to do something wrong. This type of hyper caution prevents us from taking the big leaps that will propel us to the next level. When we decide to invest in the unlikely choice, many times we fail. Fortunately, most of these missteps are not a matter of life and death. In fact, in most cases we may come out of the situations with a few bumps and bruises but are able to carry on. Learning this instills a courage in us that will allow us to let trials and tribulations slide off our back as we focus on accomplishing the important things in our life. Like surviving the impending Zombie Apocalypse for example.

It can lead to victories beyond our wildest expectations. The great things about taking the 3720 to 1 bet is when it does payoff it is better than anything that has come before it. Often times we limit ourselves to what we perceive as possible. The problem is our perceptions are shaped by our experiences. For most of us it may be hard to fathom becoming the next President of the United States or winning the lottery. However, everyone who has ever accomplished either of these things had to take a leap of faith. Even if we can’t believe in the likelihood of the big dreams becoming a reality, it is important to take the step, because the thing about the long shot is there’s always a chance it’ll come through in the end.

While taking the risky gamble every time is probably inadvisable, every once in a while it is door that should be opened. In order to keep a dream alive we must be willing to take the chances necessary to recognize it. Even if those decisions do nothing more than teach us the wisdom in learning from our mistakes. If one continues to pursue this ultimate gamble, a victory worth all of the pitfalls and disappointments may occur. And if doesn’t, we can take confidence in the fact there was always an opportunity to defy the odds and in the future there always will be.

Door Number One: A Career that Inspires

” Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” ~Buddha

Its been awhile since I introduced the grand concept of the 50 doors. The idea that the key to happiness lies in fulfilling a number of unique, but equally important needs. Rather than allow this idea to be regulated to the hall of blog posts past, I will be exploring these doors, and delving deeper in why they are important and what one should consider one they step through threshold.

As most of us probably spend a disproportionate amount of time in our lives working towards a career we might as well start there. As necessary as being employed is to our existence, it not only makes sense that work should be a main focus in our lives, but that we should constantly be striving to find the job that give us the most satisfaction. Since we are still a couple of years away from the development of the Lightsaber and the rise of Jedi Knight as a credible profession it may not always be clear what we should be doing to get the most out of this facet of our lives. Fortunately, there are a number of steps one can take to help make the process easier.

Pursue some type of post secondary education. While there are many who would question whether we should all attend college, I would argue this is the most important step one can take in better understanding the career they should pursue. This does not mean we all need to immediately go out and take on massive loads of debt in order to stumble through a college program, hoping we will one day find what it is we should spend our lives doing. However, simple steps like taking a course at a community college, or doing some internet research on available college and job training programs may be just what we need to light the spark of inspiration that allows us to find our way out of the doldrums of job uncertainty.

Take an inventory of what hobbies and activities in your life that are most satisfying. Like to fix things around the house? Maybe looking into become a mechanic or an engineer. Really enjoy writing? There are multiple professions in need of a competent, passionate writer. Like to spend a lot of time in the woods? Maybe look into the wildlife and resource management field. The point is, sometimes the key to success in our working lives lies in finding a way to get paid for doing something we would gladly do for free. While this does not always work, (I’m still waiting on that professional nap taker job opening) at least considering the many things we do in our lives when we are not at work and how they could be turned into a career is a good step towards finding the job that will inspire us to get out of bed each morning.

Volunteer for things that pique your interest. Sometimes the best thing we can do, when we’re not certain the direction our professional life should take is to find volunteer opportunities with causes and issues we believe in. It not only allows us to get a taste for the type of work done in these areas, but enables one to gauge their interest in particular areas without committing no more than the time we are willing to donate. Furthermore, if we decide we would like a career working with a particular cause or issue, volunteering gives us an inside track to learning where the jobs are and who is best to contact as we move forward. At the very least it provides a couple of good experiences for a resume.

A good education, pursuing what we love, and testing the waters via volunteering are excellent stepping-stones to landing a dream career. Once we determine what it is we want to do with our lives, its important to take whatever steps necessary to make the possibility a reality. Also, it is never too late to make a course correction. While it may make life more difficult to change things up, remaining at an undesired job can have ramifications for every element of one’s life. In either case, whether it be beginning that first career or changing course midstream the most important thing one can do is taking that first step.

The Battle of Hesitation

“To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.” ~Bertrand Russel

Confidence to act is among the greatest asset one can have in life. Without out it, the greatest leaders in history would be nothing more than men and women with great ideas and unrealized potential. On a more micro level, those who hesitate usually miss out on realizing there personal and professional aspirations. Whether it be getting that huge promotion, or ending up with the girl of your dreams, restraint often leads to failure. Just ask Mace Windu. So why then do we hesitate?

Fear is a powerful force. Deciding to invade a country, ask for a promotion, or telling someone how you feel about them have one thing in common. Uncertainty. There is no way to know how one’s actions are going to turn out. Sure you could end up on your desired path, but you could just as easily end up with a result you were hoping to avoid and this can be frightening.  As the above quote illustrates, a lack of certainty and the fear of what might happen can be paralyzing. While in most cases we can overcome this, its very existence causes us to hesitate. Which I suppose is better than having it becoming an all-consuming entity bent on destroying the universe.

Acting requires confrontation. Little can be accomplished in life without some type of confrontation. Be it more abstract concepts like ideas or the more concrete obstacles like dealing with those who disagree with our actions, there is always someone or something that must be faced down. For many of us, this is not an exciting proposition. So we hesitate, hoping if we hold off long enough the crisis will be averted. However, as someone who is a master of conflict avoidance, I can tell you, rarely does hesitation prevent things from eventually coming to a head. In fact, in many cases it just turns what would have been a small conflict into an epic battle of the ages.

Sometimes restraint is necessary. While in many cases, holding back is detrimental, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. This is especially true when it comes to the realm of emotion. Anger for example, can cause us to do crazy things. Sometimes rather than immediately going into attack mode when someone makes incendiary comments that steps on our ideals and beliefs, its wiser to restrain our immediate reactions and approach the situation once we have a chance to cool down. Does this mean we should always avoid acting on our emotions? No, but it does mean sometimes its wise to take a moment and consider the consequences.

In the game of life there are plenty of opportunities for hesitation. In most cases it’s the easier route to take. Doing so can protect us from fear and confrontation and prevent us from making poor decisions. While occasionally restraint is the right course of action, more often than not, it prevents us from reaching our full potential. In life, love, and politics we can not sit on the sidelines, constantly waiting for the right moment. Instead, it is imperative we seize the day lest we wake up one day looking back on a life of missed opportunities and broken dreams.

Emotion vs. Logic: The Battle for the Psyche

“Reason: The arithmetic of the emotions.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Something happens when one delves into a world without sleep. Reflection. What more, reflection tainted by decreased judgment. With that said, there is a certain clarity to be gained from this edgy state of mind when it comes to the role emotion and logic plays in our life. Anyone who has ever been on the wrong end of an all-nighter knows that logic gives way to emotion very quickly once sleep deprivation sets in. I wonder if this heightened sense of emotion the truer state of our beings, or if we should continue to heed the more logical side of our existence?

The Case for Emotion

Besides allowing those of us exposed to high levels of gamma radiation to deal with our rage issues, emotion has many useful advantages. Happiness, Joy, Love. All are compelling reasons for listening to one’s heart when making decisions. Love in particular enables a great deal of progress in society. On a basic level, our very survival as a species requires it. One might argue that love is not a prerequisite to reproduction. However, take it out of the equation and pretty soon  looking out for the next generation seems less appealing. At its core, love and emotions in general, are what drives us. They gets us out of bed every morning. They inspires us. Without this key component to our being, we would merely go through the motions like robotic automatons heading towards an inevitable end.

The Case for Logic

What’s that you say? Emotional responses are merely chemical reactions in the brain and can easily be overcome by logic. Well…you might have a point. At the very least the point does sound pretty logical. Bringing us to the grand champion of logic, Reason. It enables us to function in a society where disappointments are common place. It allows to make decisions, based, not just on what is best for us in the current moment, but what is best in the long-term. It helps us realize, that while eating bacon every day would bring us great joy, it also bring us high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Finally, it is the tool by which we solve the great challenges and mysteries of the universe. Without it, we might never have emerged from our primitive hunter and gather society to the intellectually sophisticated existence that allows to adapt to an every changing world.

The Case against Emotion

Rage. Sadness. Jealousy. Negative emotions are the cause of some of the world’s greatest tragedies. I mean, the entire motivation behind Darth Vader’s atrocities are based on an emotional reaction to fear of losing a woman. While emotion can inspire us to greatness, it can also lead us to commit terrible acts as well. At the very least, it clouds our judgment, causing us to make decisions that may not always be the wisest course of action. Ask anyone who’s ever felt the stings of unrequited love. Limerence is a fickle mistress indeed.  Emotional rejection has led many a spurned lover down the path to the dark side.

The Case against Logic

Take that emotion. Logic would never lead us into a foolhardy relationship. In fact, the reasonable thing to do would be to avoid the whole situation entirely. Furthermore, why bother with helping others, when our energies could better be spent increasing efficiency and productivity. Literature, poetry, massive public works projects. All wastes of time and money. It would be far more logical for humans to live an existence devoid of all frivolity. What’s that you say? You enjoy frivolity. Well, it’s not logical, so you can’t have it.

Alright, so maybe this is an extreme example, but at the end of they day, many of things we enjoy in life are emotional. It is hard to find a rational reason for heroic acts of romance. Spending hours watching movies, engaging in wacky hijinks, pursuing the objects of our desire…none of these are logical. However, without these seemingly illogical wastes of time, life seems pretty boring.

And the Winner is…

Neither. Alone, emotion and logic are equal parts beneficial and detrimental. If we ran around simply listening to emotion we would end up at a point where the disappointments of the world would leave us with no choice but to give into our rage. Which, as we all know, leads to the unsavory practice of youngling slaughter. Unbridled logic on the other hand leads us to decisions completely devoid of the human element. Fortunately, we draw on both of these elements in our decision-making (or at least we should) allowing us to not only feel inspiration but to know how to channel it to ensure the best possible outcome.