How do you feel when you hit up against your limits? Most of us have been taught that limits are meant to be surpassed and that growth comes when we push past our present limits. But what if some limits are meant to be embraced? What if some of our limits are important signs we need to understand in order to become our True Selves?
In this episode, my guest (my husband Henry) and I discuss how our personal experiences with limits have helped us to live more joyfully and become our authentic selves.
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(00:00:42) - Introduction to Limits
(00:03:59) - Introducing Henry
(00:08:27) - Limits Lead to Gratitude
(00:014:00) - Limits Force Us to Prioritise
(00:023:09) - Limits Help Us Know Our True Self
(00:028:24) - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act
The Power of Limits for Intentional Living
- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you?
- What limit or limitation are you facing up to in this season of your life?
- How do you feel about facing this limitation?
- Try sitting down with this limit and speak to him or her like an old friend asked this old friend of yours, what he, or she might be telling you about yourself.
Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 4 & 5 Living from the Inside Out (Part 1 & 2)
- Ep 6 Listening to Your Life Speak
- Ep 7 Be Curious, Courageous & Compassionate with Yourself
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EP 17 | BEFRIENDING OUR LIMITS (WITH HENRY HOO)
Have you ever experienced how your limits can help you live more authentically?
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.
[00:00:42] INTRODUCTION TO LIMITS
Hello again, dear listeners. In today's episode, we are going to be talking about limits. That is L I M I T S. Our limits – the experience of being finite and limited. So, in this journey to become more authentic and to live a more integrated life, limits can be a great blessing if what we desire is not just quantity of living, but quality of living – authentic living.
Our finitude motivates us to be more discerning about how we spend our energy and our time. The minimalist movement is so appealing to many of us living oversaturated lives of too many things, going at too fast a speed because it promises us that trimming our lives down to just what is essential and meaningful will boost our energy and increase life satisfaction.
This is not an ad for living a minimalist lifestyle, per se. Although it is about the same principle that gives minimalism its appeal. Our lives are finite. Our time is finite. Our energy, of course, is also finite. Our bodies, our minds, even our capacity to give attention and care – all these are finite because as human beings, we are finite.
While there are many who wish to do away with our finitude and to make our capacities infinite, if possible, I wish to talk about how our limitations and our finitude are actually great blessings for the journey into authenticity and wholeness. So, imagine if you are on a trek, or you know, you're going hiking on a trail and you come across a signpost that says “Danger! Do not enter”.
Would you enter? I think most people, well, if you want to stay safe and live, probably wouldn't enter. You would respect that sign, right? That there is something in there that you would not want to encounter. And when we are driving, especially if perhaps you are driving near a mountain where there are many sharp turns.
Sometimes, we come across a sign that says, “Slow down, sharp bend ahead”. And when a driver sees that sign, again, the appropriate response would be to slow down, right? Knowing that if we were to take a sharp bend at full speed, the chances of us getting hurt would increase exponentially. So, we often know to respect and honor signs.
Our limits are actually helpful signposts for us as we journey along in life, that along the way we can learn to recognize and respect.
[00:03:59] INTRODUCING HENRY
So, today's episode about limits is going to be a little different from normal because there is someone I have invited to join me on this episode. This is the very first time I'm having a guest on the Becoming Me podcast.
And I'm very glad that my very first guest is the person who has been my interior journey companion for over 20 years. We have challenged each other and have been vulnerable to each other, and we have supported each other in becoming ourselves. I am very happy to introduce you to my more introverted and wiser half, my husband, Henry.
Henry: Hello Ann! Hello every listener! It's a pleasure to be with all of you this morning and wherever Ann’s going to bring us today, I'm with you on this journey as well.
Ann: Okay. So, this episode wasn't initially planned to be a conversation. Although at the back of my mind, I always knew that I was going to bring Henry on at some point because from the very beginning, when I was about to start the podcast, I had been receiving requests from, well, from mutual friends, that they would love to have Henry on the podcast. So, for those of you who know us and who have been waiting to hear Henry, I hope you enjoy this first attempt. Otherwise, I just invite all of you to be on this adventure, into the unknown together with us. Perhaps, I can begin by sharing how Henry ended up on this particular episode.
[00:05:35] So my last couple of weeks have been very, very packed with work. Ever since I started the podcast, it has taken a big chunk of my time. I have shared on earlier episodes before that it's a lot more work than I expected, and I want to be able to produce quality episodes for you. And so often, you know, it's the back of my mind to try and get all the steps done early.
But sometimes it's just not possible. And I just embarked on starting a new course. I'm starting to give a new course and the first session was last Saturday. So, a lot of my time went into making sure that this very first session, you know, went off well. And in order to do that, I decided not to think about this podcast episode, which I needed to do until after the session was over.
And then after the session was over, there were many things that I still needed to do, but I knew I needed rest. I needed to take a break, right? And I really want it to be able to honor the weekend. I wouldn't have been able to do that; to keep to honoring my physical and mental limits if not for Henry.
So he kept reminding me that I should rest, and to have faith and to believe that I'll be able to get this episode done in, you know, in the time that I have, which is a lot shorter than usual. So, over breakfast today, I was having a discussion with Henry about this theme, as I often do. I often talk to Henry about the topics that I intend to talk about, and he raised a couple of interesting points and I just told him, well, you know, since you reminded me to rest and I did, how about you come on today and take some of the burden off me and share your wisdom. So that's how we ended up here.
Henry: Well, Ann, for those listeners who have been married for a decent length of time, would know when your spouses actually cross certain limits in their lives, they get really tired or they are not the most friendliest person to be around after they are exhausted with either work or family.
You would know what I was experiencing the whole of Sunday when I had to remind Ann to keep to her limits. So, when this morning over breakfast, she gave the invitation for me to speak about limits in my own life and in our life together. I thought this is a great opportunity for me to also let you have a sense that respecting limits is not just something that we do alone, that people around us are also important players to helping us keep our limits.
Ann: Yes. Very true. Thank you, Henry.
[00:08:27] LIMITS LEAD TO GRATITUDE
Ann: So, the first talking point I have about limits is how limits can remind us not to take things for granted. And I actually thought of an incident way back when I was still a teenager – the last year I was a teenager actually, and I broke a bone near my ankle. I broke it while ice-skating; it was an ice-skating accident.
And at first, I mean, in spite of the pain, I wasn't very daunted about, you know, the accident. I've had accidents before – even when I had to have surgery to put in a metal plate, I was fine. What became really challenging for me was in the days, the weeks that came after that particular accident because I wasn't able to walk.
And I remembered being hit by the frustration of not being able to do simple things that I've taken for granted. Like, when I'm thirsty to just get up and walk to the kitchen and get a glass of water. Or something like even, you know, pressing the button of the elevator.
I remembered when I was on crutches and I was still new to walking with crutches, it was a bit of a balancing act to be able to do things like carry something and press a button, and not drop my crutches.
The first week or so, I think after I came back from the hospital, was just filled with a lot of anger and frustration, and I'm a very impatient person.
At that time, life slowed down for me out of necessity, and I didn't take to it very well. But after the anger and frustration abated, right? I think that was like many weeks. I found myself slowly growing in gratitude for things that I never really felt grateful about. I was grateful for my ability to walk. I never thought about how different life would be when I wasn't able to walk normally.
That being able to stand, put me at a height to do many things I take for granted; that if I were seated or if I had to be in a wheelchair, I would not be able to do on my own. When we take the time to be grateful, not just to feel the emotion, but to sit with it and allow it to seep into our hearts, it changes us.
I know that that period of time for me, it changed me. It made me think about a lot of things. I mean, I was very young - I was not even 20 yet. Not yet at that age where I ponder a lot about things that I would lose. But that period of time helped me to become grateful for my mobility and I found that gratitude makes us humbler and more compassionate.
It made me realize how many things in my life is actually a gift and how easily they could be lost. I think it is, I don't know, part of our humanity that we don't often cherish something until we realize how easily it can be lost. Do you have a similar experience about that?
Henry: Well, I tore my ligament years ago and I was still in secondary school, I believe. And that required my mom to pay money for me to take a cab to school every day. We didn't come from a rich family so that was some kind of a sacrifice on her part, that she had to bring me down to the void deck every day to take a cab. That period of limitations for me had become a profound experience that continued to teach me moving forward, to take small little things and be grateful for them.
Ann: Yes. I think we often don't cherish something until we realize how easily it can be lost and that extends to our lives and the capacities that we take for granted every day. Something that you said just now about the sacrifices that your mum had to make for you also reminds me of how during that period of time, when I was not able to walk – how much more I depended on my family to help me, including my younger brother who was actually very patient with me because I was so grumpy.
I hated having to rely on others, but I think that was also something important that I needed to learn that well, that I was meant to be not just totally independent, that I needed to lean on people, especially in times of need. So, that was also a period of time that taught me to ask for help when I needed to. A bit of a, a blow to my pride, but which is exactly why I said it helped me to grow in humility.
So when we exercise deep gratitude for what we have been given, we will find that we wish to make a gift of our lives in a way that matters. That, at least, that's what I find. And to do that, we need to know who we are, come to love who we are, including the various limits that we have, and know how to live a life that celebrates who we are – with all those limits.
[00:14:00] LIMITS FORCE US TO PRIORITISE
So, another way, I think, that limits help us in this journey to authenticity, is that limits force us to think about our priorities and it forces us to act on them. How does that point end with you, Henry?
Henry: When you use the word force, it really resonates with me. It reminded me of the time when I was doing my master's degree. I took some modules in operations research. In particular, with regards to problems that require optimization – I recall how my professor shared about his understanding of boundary conditions and how with more and more boundary conditions, actually, the solution space narrows. So, to some extent, the boundary conditions were forcing the solution out of a problem that requires optimization.
And in that sense, the boundary conditions were actually very key to determining a more precise solution. So, when you were using the word force, it reminded me that in a similar way, limits in our lives helps us to narrow down our priorities. And like what you have spoken about, avoid us dissipating our limited energy.
Ann: Yes. I think of how many of us can actually say that we are crystal clear about our priorities in life. I mean, from day to day when we are going about doing our thing, we often live reactively – by that, I mean, we live reacting to what is happening to us in our environment. I mean, we don't often think about the constraints that we have until we hit up against external constraints.
To be able to live from the inside out, as I often describe it on this podcast, you know, to live out of an integrated core, requires us to be very clear about our priorities actually. And this is where our limitations can help us because, I think, especially when we are earlier on in our journey, we don't have a clear sense of what our priorities are.
So it is when we come up against limitations that we begin to reflect more deeply. So, for me, especially with my personality, I think the limitation of time, especially when I'm facing a time crunch, it forces me to be clear about what is essential to me, and what is not urgent or important will fade away. Sometimes though, I find even when we are clear about our priorities, we may still struggle to act on them. Have you ever experienced that? Even when you've come to realize, okay, what's important. Somehow…
Henry: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…
Henry: …Kind of thing. Yeah.
Ann: And often this is because of external expectations and pressures, I think. This is especially the case also when we are not yet very integrated with our true selves, and our old scripts may be still very strong.
And although we desire to be true to ourselves and what is really important to us, we may find that we can't help putting our real needs and our wishes on the back burner when there are people or circumstances that are making strong demands on us.
Henry: Well, it is interesting when you use the term “not yet integrated”, right? That reminded me of a changing relationship that I have with my limitations over time. You know, one of the biggest learning I have about the limits in my life is learning how to befriend them. Instead of seeing them as obstacles or being frustrated with them, I've learned how over time to sit with them and to see them as a friend.
Of course with any limitation in my life, my initial reaction has always been one of disappointment. But if I take time to sit with, and actually ask myself what my limitations can possibly be telling me about myself, I actually start to see them like old trusted friends. At their very core, they don't really lie, right? And they don't withhold hard truths from me. And to me, over time, I've learned to befriend them and to listen to them with humility. And that really helps me to be honest with myself.
Ann: Mm. I like that you use the word “befriend”; to not see our limitations as an adversary because I think that that's often how I start off seeing my limitations. I meet them with frustration. I don't like their presence in my life because I feel that they forced me to slow down when I can't afford to slow down. It took me a long time – I think a long process, to begin to recognize that my limitations are there to help me have a fuller life.
So, which is why, I think in a lot of cases, it takes us crashing into our limits to get us to honor our priorities. I don't know whether you've experienced something like that yet, Henry. Crashing seems to be more me than you because you seem to live life a lot more gently than I do. I just tend to meet things, you know, head on and full on and I move very fast. And for me, certainly, I find that sometimes it takes me crashing into my limits in order to honor my priorities. So, I think that's true for a lot of people and this could be experienced as a major relationship rupture.
For example, when sometimes someone realizes a significant relationship has suffered, often this could be a spousal relationship. Because we've been so busy at work that we've neglected someone very important – it could be our children. And only when there's a real problem there, which may have been growing for a long time, do we suddenly realize that, oh, you know, we are close to losing something that is very important to us. And that may remind us that we actually have limitations. We have limits to our time and our energy.
Henry: Well, instead of the word “crashing”, the word that really speaks to me in this journey of befriending my limitations is the word “chipping”. It's kind of like a sculpture being chipped off along the way by the sculptor who had an imagination of what the final sculpture is going to be.
But the process of being chipped away doesn't feel comfortable. Well, it doesn't come crashing down, but it does make me realize that every chipping off is a step forward towards something. So, for me, not so much of a crashing, but more of a chipping off.
Ann: It says something about our different personalities; that being chipped away can get your attention. I think for me, I can be so oblivious to small little things, at least at first, until I learn to be more sensitive – that it requires bigger things like burning out to really get my attention, that I'm not living my life in a way that honors my boundaries, that honors my limitation. I think for other people, sometimes it could be the scare of some major health issue either in their own lives or in someone that they love.
All these can be rude reminders that our time and our energy, our very life is finite and that what we take the time to nurture grows, and what we neglect with us, right – is a very basic truth about life. Where we give attention, where we give energy and time, will grow and what we neglect with us. So, whether that is a relationship, family-life, or our own health and happiness.
Henry: Well, what you said reminded me of what you spoke about the signposts at the earlier part of the podcast as well as the finite energy that all of us have. If you put these two together, actually, limits are beautiful road signs that remind us where our energy shall be spent. We don't have limitless energy. And, you know, with age you realize that your energy goes down. So, actually, with life experiences, the limitations that we learned with each experience, if we spend the time to ponder on them, after each experience, actually helps us to avoid the dissipation of our limited energy and we could then place our energy in where it really matters to ourselves. So, that really is something that came to my mind as you were sharing about your experiences.
[00:23:09] LIMITS HELP US KNOW OUR TRUE SELF
Ann: So, what you just said, I think brings us nicely to the last point that I was hoping that we could discuss today – which is how our limits can actually help us to grow into our true selves.
Henry: Well, in that sense, I see it a ‘both-and’ the limits can't really be useful for me if I don't have a good sense, at least of what my true self is and at the same time, exploring my limits and respecting them helps me to become more true to myself. I mean, for me, I work in an industry where hard skills are valued.
And as I progress in my career, I realize that I have certain limitations to the hard skills that I have. There was a period of time that I believed, and I told myself that I must excel in the hard skills that is expected of my work. And I tried all I could to try to be the person, to be the best employee in this area and it was really, really exhausting.
As I sat with some of these limitations that I crashed against, I realized that perhaps these are limits to be respected at some point. And as I allow myself to be more humble, I realized that, hey, I do have certain soft skills that are required of me to do my job well.
And as I learn to look at the limits that I have in those soft skills, my heart actually opened up. I felt excited and delighted to want to work at those limits. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that there are limits and there are limits. And when we are more and more clear of who we are, who we are called to be, even if there are limits that we come up against, we do find a certain joy and energy to want to stretch them. And I think these are wonderful opportunities for growth.
Ann: Yes. I really agree with that. I think for me, an important turning point in the way I look at limits came when I started allowing myself to explore who I was. So, I think I've mentioned in earlier episodes that I had a very strong script about who I was supposed to be, and I used to live according to that.
And one of the lines in that script was that I must be able to try and excel at everything that I do. So, there wasn't much differentiation between the kinds of tasks, let’s say, at work that I had to perform. But as I was heading towards burnout, because I was giving everything that I had to do everything I've got, I also began to notice there was a real difference between those areas where I could act a lot more effectively with a lot more joy, with less effort.
And those areas where I really struggled to even do, you know, an average job. And I had a choice between not wanting to accept that there was that distinction. In fact, I think there are some philosophies of growth that say we should work on what we're weak in until we can really excel at even the areas in which we are weak.
I used to come from that kind of mindset. So, it took a big change for me to think that perhaps instead, I should listen to my life – that's a name of one of the early episodes – but listen to what my life is telling me, what my motivations are telling me, what my gifts are telling me and what my weaknesses are telling me. That perhaps, I was not made to be everything to everyone or do everything equally well.
And so I think not just, not just coming up against my limits, but learning to accept them and then to even welcome them at some point, was a big step into growing into my true self.
Henry: Well, Ann, as you were sharing, an image came into my mind. It is an image that compels us to differentiate the limits that we are coming up to. Is it a ceiling or is it a springboard? It is a ceiling when we are trying to do what is not meant for us to do; that is not authentic to our true self. We will be trying to fight destiny. We will be trying to fight who we are not. But a limit can also be a springboard if we are true to ourselves; true to who we are created to be. Then that limit gives us a doorway to great potential. And in pursuing that potential, I believe, and I've experienced it myself – it gives me great joy.
Ann: Yes. I've seen that to be true in your life and mine.
[00:28:24] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT
Ann: I think we should try and draw today's episode to a close, but you know how I always end my podcast episodes with praxis prompts. Maybe you could also contribute to a suggestion as to what they may be.
[00:28:39] The first one is always pretty much the same, which is the first prompt is to Listen – and I invite you to your listener as you listen to today's episode, what struck you and did something resonate particularly strongly with you? Perhaps something that I said or something that Henry shared. Two: Ponder – my suggestion would be to ponder on what limitation or what limit are you facing up to in your life in this season.
And how are you feeling about that limit that you're coming up against? You may wish to put this in your journal. Spend some time listening to how you're feeling about these limitations that you are hitting up against. Three: Act – and perhaps Henry can give us a prompt for act this time.
Henry: My suggestion would be, if there is a particular limit that came up to your awareness, try sitting down with this limit and speak to him or her like an old friend. Ask this old friend of yours, what he, or she might be telling you about yourself. Spend some time to dialogue with this limit of yours and learn to befriend your limit. That will be my suggestion.
Ann: That's a wonderful suggestion, Henry. Thank you so much for that. So that brings us to the end of today's episode on Becoming Me. Henry and I, we hope that you've enjoyed this episode that has been quite different from the normal. Henry, do you have any last things you want to add?
Henry: For all the listeners who are out there, when you come across any of your limits, whether this week or in the weeks ahead, my recommendation is to be gentle; to be gentle with yourself, to be gentle with the limits of others who are around you and enjoy the journey of becoming more and more yourself.
Ann: Thank you, Henry. I really appreciate your presence and your contribution. And I hope that this will not be the last time that we have you on this podcast.
Ann: I'll be holding you to that.
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!
Secular Monk & Husband
Henry’s faith and life journey has its fair share of ups and downs, knocks and falls. While he struggles with brokenness as part of his humanity, he has also encountered the joy of being received by the Lord just as he is.
Henry is passionate about personal development and has taken interest in personality assessment tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Instrument® (MBTI) and Motivation Code™ (MCODE). He has found silent retreats and spiritual direction helpful in leading him to deeper encounters with the Lord and is currently making his way through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in daily life.
As an introvert, he prefers spending time on restful activities but is also game for meaningful conversations, especially with a nice cup of coffee. Henry is married to Ann and they enjoy serving Christ together.
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