April 6, 2021

True vs. False Limits (with Henry Hoo)

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How can we tell the difference between true limits which are meant to be honoured and false limits which could be an invitation to transcend the limiting beliefs that we inherited from our life script?

In this follow-up conversation about limits (Episode 17), my husband Henry shares his experiences with both true and false limits in the context of leadership. We also talk about how to differentiate between true and false limits and how both play a role in our journey into authenticity.

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Blog Post: 
False Limits - Lies That Keep Us Stagnant

This episode is a follow-up to Ep 17 Befriending Our Limits. (Ceiling vs Springboard is mentioned at 27:29 min)

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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Are all limits meant to be honoured? What about limits that we are meant to transcend and push beyond?

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.

Hello again, dear listeners. Today, we are going to go a little deeper into the topic of “Limits”. In the last episode we did together, my husband, Henry and I talked about three ways in which limits help us live a life that is more authentic. We shared about how experiencing our limits can help us to appreciate what we so often take for granted and to appreciate that what we have is finite. 

Then we talked about how our limits could help us by forcing us to prioritise our lives and live more intentionally. Finally, we talked about how the limits we encounter in ourselves can give us clues about our true self and what our unique contribution to the world may be.

And during that episode, Henry mentioned in passing the importance of differentiating between different kinds of limits; the terms he used were “ceiling” and “springboard”. If you would like to review that part of the last episode, it's around the 27-minute mark. I will post this in the show notes as well, for this episode; for easy reference.

So, Henry spoke about how limits could be a ceiling, or it could be a springboard. And I thought this point that Henry raised in passing is a really important one, so I invited him back to do this follow up episode on limits. 

Ann: So, hello, Henry. Welcome back on the podcast and thank you for agreeing to come back again so soon.

Henry: Hello, Ann. Glad to be back. 

Ann: So, I thought that we could revisit the point that you raised last time about differentiating between different kinds of limits. You used the terms “ceiling versus springboard” – which I think paints a vivid image about the different kinds of limits you were trying to describe.

“Ceiling limits” are what I would call true limits – they are limits that are meant to be honoured for our wellbeing, and they alert us when we are moving beyond our authentic selves and trying to be who we are not. What you refer to as “springboard limits” are what I would call false limits – false in the sense that even though we experience resistance when we come up against it, it is in going beyond this resistance that we can mature as our true selves.

So, by false, I think I'm thinking a little bit like, you know, how we talk about a false ceiling or a false floor panel; where it’s actually not, you know, solid behind this limit. And if you can just tunnel a little bit deeper, you will come into a wider space. These false limits often originate from the scripts; the stories that we grew up with – from what we came to believe were our limits based on, perhaps what other people have told us, whether explicitly or implicitly; just the beliefs that we have perhaps come to embrace and take for granted about ourselves. Would you agree to this depiction of the two kinds of limits?

Henry: Ann, I think you are spot on in differentiating the true and false limits. And what they tell us about ourselves. To me, true limits are honest boundaries that teach us to respect ourselves and to recognise our limits with humility so that we do not end up hurting ourselves. And like you said, false limits on the other hand, are from scripts that we picked up in our past experiences. Or I call them beliefs that we tell ourselves because of accumulated and unresolved hurts. But I'll emphasize again that to me, both true and false limits – and in that sense, both the boundaries and beliefs can be our friends on this journey of integration and growth; if only we learn to see them for who they are.

Ann: Thank you for that great reminder that regardless of the kind of limit, that both true and false limits can be befriended and that indeed both kinds of limits can help us in our interior journey. That is such a great reminder, Henry. So, I thought we could begin today by giving some examples of when we had experienced these two different kinds of limits and how we learned to tell them apart.

So Henry, in the last episode you shared with us something about how in the context of your work, you had come up against certain limit, right? Something about the hard skills that you felt that were necessary in your work and you feeling that you didn't have maybe, as much skill as you would like.

Could you revisit that a little bit with us? What was the gist of that limit that you came up against at work? 

Henry: Well, I'm an engineer. And as part of my work, I lead a team of engineers to achieve outcomes. And obviously as the superior, there is a certain expectation that I am to be the best engineer in the team.

Maybe that's something that I placed upon myself, or that’s something that everybody kind of has that at the back of our minds. So, as I continue to progress in my career, as I lead more and more engineers, I felt the need for me to understand deeper and deeper into the engineering fundamentals of what we do.

But when I look back at my life, how I got into engineering in the first place, I realise that many of my skill sets were not exactly the kind of skills you would imagine a typical engineer to have. I'm not particularly good with details and I'm not very good with my hands. As an engineer, I’m probably much better with concepts; with understanding things at the system level.

So, when I told myself that I am to be a good engineer, I put in a lot of effort to pay attention to a lot of details that I come across every day. I read up on documents before I go into a meeting. And I always felt the need to have a lot of space before I could make an engineering decision. And in my line of work, when time critical decisions need to be made, I feel a lot of pressure on myself – sometimes to the extent that I doubt myself.

Even after I've made a decision, I would look back and ask myself: could I have made a wrong decision? Should I have considered more information? Should I have consulted different specialists before I made a decision? And over time, that causes me to have a certain kind of fatigue. I started to realise that decisions I made tend to weigh down on me, rather than me feeling excited about the decisions I make at work every day.

Ann: So, what happened when you decided, or when you acknowledged this limit and you decided to stop trying to push it as much as you can? Because it was not really making that much of a difference even when you try to push beyond this limit. What happened then?

Henry: I started to look at my work as greater than myself. I started to recognise the part of my work that requires details, requires specialization, and admit to myself that maybe I should turn to somebody else better at that to help to complement me in leading the team. That gives me more space and confidence to look at a problem or a situation in a way that I’m made to be.

So, I started to see things that have interrelations between each other. I looked at a problem and I started to see the ripple effects that it can have. That gave me joy to focus on the right part of the problem and leave those part of the problems that are not really up my alley, so to speak, to somebody else whom I can trust, and somebody else whom I know have the right skill sets, and the instincts and the passion to solve those problems.

Ann: Yes. And I suppose that actually benefited the whole team, and not just yourself. 

Henry: Definitely. It is like a soccer team – I realised that if I am a mid-fielder and I'm not a striker, I don't play the role of a striker, even though I may have a false sense that every soccer player is supposed to score goals for the team.

I started to realise who I am made to be and what I'm good at and found a place in the team that I could contribute. And at the same time, recognizing which part of the game belonged to somebody else in the team, and actually have the humility to speak to that person and give him or her the authority to lead the team in that area.

Ann: So, in this case, accepting and honouring the limit that you encountered in yourself actually helped you to live from the gifts that you had – the gifts that were different. So, if you hadn't stopped trying to push against that particular limit, you may not have actually moved into the areas of your strength and saw things in a new way – and allowed someone else in your team to pull the weight.

Henry: I like the way you put it. I think by acknowledging some things, it gave me the space to actually focus on the right things for me. It actually gave me space to really explore the gifts that I have and to hone them into important skills the team needs. 

Ann: So, can I ask you; because part of this is also trying to figure out how do we discover that this limit that we came across was a true limit and not just a false limit.

So in this particular case, what were some indications, you think, in your experience that showed you that this was indeed a limit that you should stop pushing against? And how did you find out in the end that indeed it was a true limit?

Henry: On hindsight, I realised that when I pushed against this limit, I was just trying to tick all the boxes and do all the right things that I think would help me get past this limit. I realised that because it was never in my instinct to catch details – to want to go deep into particular specialization.

When I felt the need to push this limit, I was not creative at all. I was just going back to the rogue effort of trying to remember things, trying to pay attention. And I was just trying to push the same wall in the same way for a long, long time.

Ann: And not making much progress.

Henry: Not only that – it was causing injury to myself in terms of my self-confidence, it was making me fatigued, such that I am even less attentive to other areas of my work, where I would typically have been able to do well. So, in a sense, I could see the performance of my work actually deteriorating.

Ann: So, what was an experience of a false limit for you then? If what you had just described was a true limit.

Henry: Perhaps I could share another dimension of my work. It’s along the path of leadership. Well, I'm the youngest among the cousins that I grew up with. My personality tends to want to go with the crowd. I enjoy following people whom I trust, and I respect. And so, in a large part of my life, I have seen myself more as a follower than a leader. In the career that I took on, one aspect is to be a leader of engineers.

And it is in that part I've always felt that there is a limit that I can't overcome. I believed that I was someone born to be a second man – to always be in support of somebody else; to follow. It was only until when I was placed in a position of responsibility over a few hundred people, that I was pushed against this “false limit” – if you will.

And over time, I realised that because of inherent passion in me, with regards to developing people, into helping people achieve their potential, I was coming up with new and creative ways of exercising my leadership. And that was when I reflected back on my experience and realised that hey, I was actually a lot more motivated pushing against this limit of my leadership ability than the energy I brought to push against the limit of being a good engineer.

And that was how I could recognise that one was perhaps a true limit, and the other was a false limit that I have imposed upon myself because of the scripts that I've inherited from young and the beliefs that I have been telling myself all these years.

Ann: So, in both these experiences – in both cases, you did respond first by kind of like, trying to go beyond it, right? 

Henry: Yeah, I did. 

Ann: Okay. So, would it be fair to say that regardless of what kind of limits we encounter, perhaps there needs to be a little period of testing before we can really figure out is this a limit that we're meant to respect…

Henry: Right.

Ann: …and back off? Or is this a limit that is a false limit – maybe imposed by our own beliefs and that it's something that we can transcend and then really grow beyond.

Henry: Exactly. In both cases for me, whether it was a true limit or a false limit, the first emotional response was one of disappointment; one of feeling inadequate. And from your previous episode of sharing the different layers of how we live our lives, I suppose this is the inner layer of our emotions. 

Ann: Previous episode? I think you're referring to a much earlier episode that when I talk about living from inside out – is that that's right?

Henry: That’s right. 

Ann: Okay.

Henry: Yeah. So, with all limits, the first layer that I found myself entering was that of my emotions. But as my emotion start to settle down, I guess what made a difference was whether I went into the outer layer again, and try to push the limit, or whether I enter deeper into my core and get in touch with who I really am, and act from that place. I would say in the true limit there was nothing within my core that really connected with the way I understood engineering to be.

And so, my efforts to try to shift that limit was all about going to the external environment to look for help; to look at skills, to look at techniques, to how to be a better engineer. But in the area of leadership, as the emotions of initial disappointment, and even self-doubt settles away, I realised that there was a drawing of myself into my inner core. And that was when I realised that something clicked deep within me; I have the passion to help people flourish, to help people reach their potential. And when I connected with that core within me, I could see the connection to what a leader does for his people.

And from that place, I started to think of many different ways I could be a leader. I was confident that, from that core of passion in helping people develop themselves, I could also be a leader.

Ann: I'm grateful that you mentioned this journey in words. So, by the way, for listeners who are not familiar; if you're a new listener and you haven't listened to my earlier episodes – what Henry is referring to is a fundamental principle that I keep returning to, which I often call living from the inside out.

I talk about different layers to our life. This is in episode four and five, and I highly recommend that you listen to them if you're not quite sure what we're talking about. So, anyway, back to what you were saying, Henry – that when you encountered the disappointment or the feeling, or that you're not doing as well, that would be in the external layer of your living, of your experience.

And then you acknowledged the disappointment that you feel, which is at the middle layer of living. And that learning to listen to yourself brings you to the core of your being, where your deeply held convictions and values and what you're really passionate about – where all that resides and you touch kind of like the main thing that makes you tick, and then you get connected with who you are; your identity.

And instead of looking just on the external layer of what you think the circumstances and environment requires of you, you allow yourself to be led from your core. So, kind of like building back out from what you really believe in, what you're really passionate about, remembering and acknowledging the gifts that you do have, and then letting the truth of who you are lead you back out to see the external circumstances with new perspective.

Right, so now you've set aside the perspective of expectations from outside, the expectations that come from thinking leadership should look a certain way. And you've gone into your core, and now you're coming back out with a rootedness in your identity and suddenly now you know how to deal with the same circumstances that you're facing, but now it's an entirely different experience; you don't feel that you're hitting against the limit. In fact, I remember the transformation that I saw you go through when you were actually living through all that. Suddenly, it seemed like you were really enjoying yourself and there was this huge capacity for creativity. 

Henry: Yeah, absolutely. I remember that journey inwards wasn't easy. It took months. It requires humility and time and space to really sit with myself. But when it finally connected at my deepest core, and I started to rise from that place – I realised that the situation hasn't changed, the environment hasn't changed, but the way I look at the environment, the way I look at situations changed fundamentally. It was from that place that I could discover new ways of being, new ways of leading, and more importantly, in ways that are unique to me; authentic to myself – and that didn't take as much effort as I used to imagine leadership to be, before I undertook this journey. 

Ann: What I'm piecing together as I'm listening to you is that; it's amazing how limits – whether they are true limits or false limits – both actually can serve the same purpose of helping us live more authentically. 

Henry: In a certain sense, it really doesn't matter whether the limit is true or false. The path is the same. It is about reflecting on your experiences; to be honest with yourself, to be able to recognise both the light and the shadow that lives within us, and then having the courage to live from that place.

Ann: Okay. Thank you, Henry. I hope that our listeners get something from this discussion. I mean, the two of us, we're always having these kinds of discussions at home and we get each other. I'm hoping that, you know, our listeners will not be lost in this conversation.

So, as we come to a close for this episode, let us now turn to the praxis prompts. One: Listen – as you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Did something resonate particularly strongly with you? 

Two: Ponder – [Henry:] When you look over your life and look at those times that you came up against a limit, what was your first emotion? What is your typical response when you come up against a limit – do you tend to try and push through and overcome the limit, or do you tend to shy away from them and remain where you are? Why do you think this is your tendency?

Ann: Three: Act – think of a limit that you are currently heading up against or wrestling with, in your life; it could be in any context, whether it's personal life or work. Try and identify a place in your life where you feel resistance and tension because you keep bumping up against your limit.

Then, I invite you to try and apply what you have heard in this episode and see if you can identify if this limit is a true limit; one that is meant to be honoured and respected, or if it is a false limit. And that it is an invitation for you to revisit this resistance or this limit after you have connected more deeply with your identity of who you are; what you believe in, what you're passionate about and what gifts you bring to the table.

Take a bit of time. It's not something that you can do in just one sitting, in one afternoon of journaling or a week. Henry and I would both really be interested in hearing how this episode lands with you – whether it helps you in the way that you deal with the limits that you come across in your life.

Well, that's it for today's episode, we hope that it has blessed you and that it will help you become more intentional in your journey into authenticity and wholeness.

[00:24:05] CONCLUSION
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!

Henry HooProfile Photo

Henry Hoo

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.