The limits of what you can achieve
The changes you can make that will affect your life most are in your personal leadership skills — how you perceive yourself, others, and your environment; how you manage conflict; how you influence yourself and others; and the other components of leadership.
These changes will affect how you experience life more than external things like winning the lottery, where you live, etc, no matter how big they seem. In fact, if you don’t change these things, you can win the lottery or any other big change and the important parts of your life won’t change much. You might have a fancier car or bigger house, but they won’t mean much more to you. You won’t have more, fewer, or closer friends. You won’t be more or less happy, calm, frustrated, angry, or whatever.
Well, that’s my belief and experience in myself and my clients. I live by it. I support that belief beyond my limited experiences and those of people I know through stories of people who have lived extraordinary lives. The inspirations in my About page lists three main inspirations — Victor Frankl, Jean-Dominique Bauby, and Mark Zupan. I’m sure you have your inspirations. Taking Frankly, for example, his ability to find meaning while imprisoned at Auschwitz, inspires me to find meaning in my life.
In my seminars I talk about how a 66-year-old grandmother can win an NBA championship, or at least the equivalent.
Exploring the limits of your abilities tells you what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you come across something at the limit or nearly so of what you think you can achieve.
Today I read an essay written by a man, William Blake, who has been living in solitary confinement for over twenty-five years, meaning not seeing another person for twenty-three hours per day, no trees or grass, and so on. From the web page publishing the essay
This powerful essay earned Blake an Honorable Mention in the Yale Law Journalâ€™s Prison Law Writing Contest, chosen from more than 1,500 entries. He describes here in painstaking detail his excruciating experiences over the last quarter-century. â€œIâ€™ve read of the studies done regarding the effects of long-term isolation in solitary confinement on inmates, seen how researchers say it can ruin a manâ€™s mind, and Iâ€™ve watched with my own eyes the slow descent of sane men into madnessâ€”sometimes not so slow,â€ Blake writes. â€œWhat Iâ€™ve never seen the experts write about, though, is what year after year of abject isolation can do to that immaterial part in our middle where hopes survive or die and the spirit resides.â€ That is what Blake himself seeks to convey in his essay.
I’ve read a bit on the guy, and it seems he’s committed some gruesome crimes. Online discussion on the page publishing the essay and elsewhere cover many topics — what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, whether he deserves this punishment, death penalty issues, etc.
As worthy those topics are for discussion, I leave them for other pages. For my purpose, I just note that as much as I believe people can make any situation work for them, that if Frankl could in Auschwitz, then anyone can change their life, cases like this suggest I have to make exceptions.
In particular, the ability to improve your life by changing how you perceive the world is a skill that you can learn. It seems the ability to obstruct someone’s ability to improve their life is also a skill. Essays like this one suggest that whatever your ability to improve your life, others might be able to prevent you from doing so.
I wonder how long I could stand solitary confinement. Would I go insane like so many others he could hear from his cell? Most importantly, could I change how I perceive that environment enough to consider life worth living, or even good?
I hope I never have to answer those questions myself. Still, I consider at least considering such extreme cases helps understand my regular life and hone my skills to improve it.
Plenty of other examples exist. I just happened across this one today, and appreciated the quality of writing.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees