In 1843, Soren Kierkegaard published his first major book, Either/Or (ebook), in which he tries to answer the question, “How should we live?”
During a particularly interesting passage, the Danish philosopher discusses our tendency to see boredom as a negative influence and points out that we often use boredom as justification to jump continually from thing to thing.
“One is weary of living in the country and moves to the city; one is weary of one’s native land and goes abroad; one is weary of Europe and goes to America, etc.; one indulges in the fanatical hope of an endless journey from star to star…
One is weary of eating on porcelain and eats on silver; wearying of that, one eats on gold.”
The assumption that often drives these behaviors is that if we want to find happiness and meaning in our lives, then we need more: more opportunity, more wealth, and more things.
We start to believe that moving somewhere new will remove the messiness of life. Or, that if we just lived in a new location or had a new job, then we would finally be granted the permission and ability to do the things we always wanted to do. If had more, we would be set.
Kierkegaard argues, however, that the life we are looking for can be found embracing less, not more.
The Power of Limitations
“The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.”
History is filled with examples of people who embraced their limitations rather than fought them.
- Dr. Seuss wrote his most famous book by only using 50 different words.
- Ingvar Kamprad only had enough money to start a business selling match sticks. He turned it into IKEA.
- George R.R. Martin writes best-selling novels using decades-old technology.
- Richard Branson has built 400 businesses despite having dyslexia.
Our limitations provide us with the greatest opportunity for creativity and inventiveness.
Let Your Limitations Fill You With Strength
“A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a source of great amusement. Think of our school days; we were at an age when there was no aesthetic consideration in the choosing of our teachers, and therefore they were often very boring—how resourceful we were then! What fun we had catching a fly, keeping it prisoner under a nutshell, and watching it run around with it! What delight in cutting a hole in the desk, confining a fly in it, and peeking at it through a piece of paper! How entertaining it can be to listen to the monotonous dripping from the roof! What a meticulous observer one becomes, detecting every little sound or movement.”
It can be easy to spend your life complaining about the opportunities that are withheld from us and the resources that we need to make our goals a reality.
But there is an alternative. You can use your constraints to drive creativity. You can embrace your limitations to foster skill development. The problem is rarely the opportunities we have, but how we use them.
- You want to write, but don’t have a large audience. Not a problem. That is your constraint. How can you create a work of art for your small corner of the universe?
- You are not as strong or mobile as you wish? No worry. That is your constraint. What is the best workout your body can deliver given these boundaries?
The only thing needed to begin a new life is a new perspective. Let your limitations fill you with strength rather than deplete your power.
The more we limit ourselves, the more resourceful we become.