We hear it all the time: “There’s no such thing as impossible” and “you can do anything you put your mind to.”
That sounds encouraging, even inspiring, but as it turns out, that’s not actually true.
Yes, we are capable of more than we think, and stepping outside of our comfort zones can take us to places we couldn’t have imagined. If I had given up on everything that seemed impossible, I wouldn’t have moved to China to teach English, or stayed there for four years, or started up a freelance business upon returning home. There’s great value in pushing the limits of what we think is impossible.
But there are times when we may give something our all, and still fail. Sometimes pushing the limits leads to burnout instead of breakthrough.
There are some things you and I simply can’t do.
Sometimes a goal may be beyond our physical or mental ability to reach. No matter how hard we try, some things can’t be willed into existence.
In other cases, we may miss the right timing. Perhaps we are too late, and the opportunity has been lost. Or perhaps we are too early, or we have missed a prerequisite step, or what once fit perfectly no longer does.
Whatever the reason, sometimes things just don’t work. And what can we do then?
Admitting it’s impossible doesn’t have to mean admitting defeat.
We’re told that we should never give up, because we don’t know when we may hit that breakthrough. But I think it’s more important to learn when to give up.
Holding on and trying to force something that just isn’t right for you only delays you finding something else that could be better. Letting go, terrifying as it is, is sometimes the most freeing and empowering thing you can do.
This, I think, is the actual point of pushing your limits: to learn what is and isn’t impossible. And that means you’re inevitably going to reach a wall you can’t push through. You’re going to fail, and if you can accept and learn from that failure, you’ll be one step closer to the next success.
Someone I greatly admire put it this way: Whatever your dream or desire is, go after it, and “taste that failure.” Find the boundary line of what really is impossible, and then pick yourself back up and use what you learned to accomplish something else — or accomplish the same thing in a different way. Because failure is an end of sorts, but it’s also a new beginning.
But here’s the thing: letting go of a pursuit doesn’t always mean giving up on it forever. Sometimes it just means you take a step back until the timing becomes right again.
Getting some distance and perspective may show you that you were trying to force something unnecessarily, or it may prove to you that what you were striving towards is worth returning to. Either way, you’ll benefit from not expending all your energy and instead taking time to rest and reflect.
How well do you know yourself?
Getting to know yourself — your limitations, motivations, and more — helps you learn to distinguish between moments when you need to stretch your comfort zone and moments when you need to acknowledge that you’re pushing too hard.
Check out my resource library for questions, journal prompts, and worksheets for self-reflection and planning. A few examples of what you’ll find there include:
- One month of bite-sized journal prompts
- Goal-setting worksheets
- Questions to ask yourself when motivation is low
- And more!
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