From as early as I can remember, I’ve had an “Upper Limit Problem.” That’s what many entrepreneurial coaches, business planners, and spiritual teachers describe as an internal reluctance to accept a life more abundant and successful than what we can currently tolerate. Notice I wrote “tolerate” not “imagine.”
That’s because the Upper Limit Problem really has little to do with our ability to imagine ourselves as successful. It has to do with how we react when we start to experience what we’ve already imagined—the early stages of success, wealth, expansion, and recognition. Many of us feel a deep discomfort in the face of success because it can upset many aspects of our lives, real and imagined, and we can be tempted to curl up in a figurative little ball and let that success pass us right by.
My ULP comes from being the youngest of ten children. I’m hyper-aware of my older siblings and my supposed “place” in our family. This is a little snippet of my inner dialogue:
“How dare you have more than they do? Who do you think you are? You’re just the baby. You’re too insignificant to have more (success, money, fame) than they do. Stop it right now! They’re older than you. Stay small. Don’t make them feel bad. They already hate you for being the baby.”
Of course, no one in my family actually ever said anything like that to me. My ULP arose from the natural consequences of being the last in a very big family.
It wasn’t until I was faced with making a living for myself, post divorce, that I knew I was carrying this burden. Now I see that my siblings probably experienced their own kind of ULPs too with an inner dialogue that just sounds a little different than mine (maybe). Most of us have a profound fear of our own awesomeness. Our social structures are built on certain economic and social assumptions. When we actively alter those, we necessarily have to go through a period of readjustment, sometimes painfully.
How do you know when you’re hitting your Upper Limit? Here are some of the signs:
- You feel really big in your body. At the end of your day, you feel powerful and alive. Buzzing, full, as if you have too much energy in there.
- You’re self-medicating because you’re feeling too much. Smoking pot, drinking, over-exercising, running up your credit cards at the mall. All the regulars. Sometimes addiction doesn’t come from abject suffering, it can also bubble up from the changes that success brings and feeling guilty about the joy and power you’re feeling.
- You’re resisting the next big step even though it’s staring you in the face. For me right now, asking for bank financing to grow my business through the first big plateau is terrifying. What are you resisting? Public speaking? Investing in yourself? Writing that book you know you have to write before you die?
- Giving up just as you know you’re at a breakthrough point. Just as you’re about to reach a new high, are you tempted to just quit? If you’re thinking of abandoning a big project, wait a period of time to make the decision to give up—a day, a week, even a year. Then reassess. If you need to switch gears for good, market driven reasons, then do. If it’s your ULP, you’ll see it.
- You about ready to go to your Plan B, even though you really, really don’t have to. If you go to B (or as Reid Hoffman calls it “Plan Z”) before actual meltdown in your life or business, you’re copping out. Pause here. Make no moves until you know if you’re really facing your ULP.
- Your next move is “defensive” not “responsive.” To serve in today’s market in any business, we must be responsive to subtle market cues. If you find yourself making business decisions to prevent something, or shift gears because you’re nervous, instead of being responsive to actual market indicators, you’re at your ULP. Again, pause before acting. Ask yourself, is there an action here that I can take that grows my capacity for greatness?
- You play small so you don’t piss off other people. If you’re still acting like a mouse around the office because you’re afraid of what other people will think of you, not out of conviction, you’re at your Upper Limit.
What do you do when you’re self-sabotaging, playing small, or curling up in a little ball?
Relax! Let yourself become pliable, flexible, relaxed. Studies say that people who are in automobile accidents fare better when they relax. That’s what you do. In the face of panic, breath, relax, rest. Don’t try to change it yet. Just sit with it and let it be. Then…
Admit it! Tell a trusted friend, your spouse, or business partner that you are at your upper limit. Growing beyond your comfort zone requires support. But first you have to admit that you’re there. To yourself. To someone else. Find a safe person to confide in. Say the words, “I am called to be more than I am right now and I’m scared.”
Ask it! Once you’ve said it, the ULP tends to lose its power over you. Your confidante can usually help you discern self-imposed limitations from real limitations. Be aware though, that almost every limitation is self-imposed. Ask your confidant for their objective, loving view of you and your trajectory in life. By the way, make sure you ask someone who has a very positive view on life. If you ask a person steeped in negativity, that’s what you’ll get back.
Act it! That one thing that’s scaring you…bring it to the top of your To-Do List. Make it a priority. Do it. You can only fail. And who cares about that? Failure is just data to inform future decisions. Instead of playing small, challenge yourself to act bigger, louder, more powerfully by one incremental step. A little at a time, poke your head out of your cube, or office, or Facebook. Say something or do something a little challenging to yourself. And say it or do it with love and conviction. Watch what happens! Today. Now.
Be it! In the doing of the thing that scares you most, you become the person you want most to be. Allow your insides to be transformed, to be stretched beyond what you believe you’re entitled to.
Protect it! When you’re growing your capacity for greatness, others will want you to get back in your box. If people in your life will absolutely not allow you to become someone new, put a boundary between you. Like a hen protecting her eggs, so too do you need some buffer between your greatest self and those that are uncomfortable with the new you. Time and distance are really helpful here. If they are not feasible for you, consider getting support from a friend or a therapist who can help you build and maintain good boundaries.
Let go! Of the outcome. Stop trying to pin down what will happen in the end. It is not important. Allow your life energy to live and move in the world. That is what is needed, what is wanting to happen. You are wanting to happen.
What on earth does this have to do with being a lawyer? Everything! As lawyers, we’re faced with many, many “DON’Ts,” thing’s we’re not supposed to think or say or do. These don’ts weigh so heavily on us that we forget that we’re also here to serve and to help others to bring forth their gifts. If we can’t do that for ourselves, how can we possibly help others?
By allowing yourself to shine, to be as great a you as you can be, you give your clients permission to shine.
Are you ready to move past your fears and finally create the law practice and life of your dreams? Start here: