“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” – Lucille Ball
There are a lot of quotes about knowing your limits that posit the notion that those limits are then a new baseline for the inevitable growth that comes with self-awareness. It’s the more appealing option, of course. Thinking you’re only going to get better in the future is the basis of business for self-help books, diet plans, and gyms. There are no seminars on just staying where you are. You can change; you can surpass limits.
Except that’s not what limits means. It means the end. No matter how increasingly nebulous the edge of the universe becomes, there is still an edge. I know my limits. I know what I can and can’t do. And while I think there is always room for self help, it’s also important to know what you should just let go.
I had back surgery in 2012 and at about 4:00 AM, the nurse said I had to empty my bladder before the doctor saw me in a few hours. I said, great, unhook me from these excellent drugs and I’ll pop in the loo. With the carefree nature of someone who got to pee in toilets, the nurse laughed. She handed me the bedpan. I said, “I won’t be able to go in this.”
She’s heard that before. (Probably) no one really enjoys going in a bedpan. She said that everyone says that until the catheter’s brought out (a straight catheter, because I had not planned on staying the night and therefore forgot to bring my own).
I tried. I tried for 45 minutes. I tried leaning forward. I tried leaning back. I tried thinking of waterfalls. The nurse ran water in the sink. I tried to do whatever it is I imagine women having babies do. The only thing that bedpan did was make an semi-permanent butt tattoo. When she brought the bedpan, I already knew what was waiting for me. A straight catheter from me to an almost-not-big-enough bowl for an entire SportsCenter Top 10. I can’t make myself pee in the woods, so when I say I can’t pee in a bedpan, I’m not lying. My peeing limit? A port-a-potty.
Similarly, I knew riding the bus by myself had the potential for disaster. My first day of first grade, I got on the wrong bus and ended up riding the entire way until the bus driver turned around and found a tiny girl with a Lionel Richie poodle mullet realizing she had made a huge mistake. Fortunately, even though this was before the time of cell phones or pagers or even caller ID or call waiting, I was reunited with my mom back at the school, where my mom asked me how I could possibly stay on the bus the entire time without saying anything to the driver. I don’t know. It never occurred to me.
That lesson stayed with me when I decided to take my first solo ride as an adult, a New Year’s Eve where I lamed out early and decided the best solution to the variety of issues complicating this decision (no car, only person leaving, lameness, etc) was to take the bus. The story of that bus trip and the rest of my journey home is a story for another day, but trust that I missed my stop and accidentally rode to the end of the route and ended up walking 3 miles home through Mt. Airy Forest. My bus riding limit is obviously the last stop.
Everyone loves getting pizza delivered. No one likes ordering pizza. I hate ordering pizza. I hate that I have to call to order my favorite pizza instead of ordering it online. I hate ordering pizza for more than two people because it involves endless choices of crust/sauce/toppings and doing math and compromising, which is all time better spent eating pizza. I have never ordered pizza for more than four people. When I go to a #Pizzanati outing (two pizza lovers on a quest for Cincinnati’s best plain pizza who let me tag along), I often order my own pizza just so I don’t have to participate in the nightmare of a 10-person order.
It should come as no surprise that my recent experience of ordering pizza for 30 people crashed and wood-fired burned into the ground – a disaster of near-Hindenburg proportions. I won’t go into details but the absurdity of how much pizza I ordered will now be in my personnel file, which I understand is the grown-up version of a permanent record. My pizza-ordering limit? Four people.
I learn from these life experiences, slowly. Sometimes, I learn that what I thought was my limit was porous – I now ride the bus alone to work and back. (Maybe someday I’ll set a new limit is riding the bus alone to anywhere else.) Often, I learn that some limits are just that: limits. Why push limits that are inevitable when I can concentrate on building upon what has no ceiling? I generally know where my time and energy is best spent. There’s nothing wrong with acquiescing to a limit of little consequence (although in my case, the matters of little consequence usually find their way to chaos) in favor of reaching for the nebulae of life.
And for the last piece of my own pizza.