Estimating our limits

My favorite guys aboard a replica of the Susan Constant Jamestown Settlement, Virginia, August 2005

My favorite guys aboard a replica of the Susan Constant
Jamestown Settlement, Virginia, August 2005

“How many ships didn’t sail because of the belief that the earth was flat? How much progress was impeded because man wasn’t supposed to breathe underwater, fly through the air, or venture into outer space? Historically, we’ve done a remarkably poor job of estimating our limits.”Gary Keller

Okay, so the skeptical cynic in me responds, “Yes, but how many DID sail and we never heard about them because they were lost at sea?”  Nevertheless, I’m very happy SOME of them took to the water eventually, because many of us wouldn’t be where we are today if they had not.

I agree that often we have done a poor job of estimating our limits, and while this type of error can go both ways, I think we tend to err most on the side of caution.  Yet there comes a time, after due diligence and reasonable preparation, when we must stop ruminating and ACT.

Something about the world today seems to be making us more anxious all the time.  Were our ancestors, who were coping with shorter life spans, less food, untreatable disease and hardly any of what we think of as necessities, as fearful as we are today?

Let me be clear; I’m not suggesting you should take up sky diving, or scaling El Capitan, or becoming a NASCAR driver.  It’s just that I so often hear (or speak) some variant of this statement: “I know I should _____________but I’m afraid _____________.”

You can fill in the blanks here with whatever you fear doing, but I bet most of it is not along the lines of the extreme sports I mentioned.  It may have to do with making a decision about a diet, a room’s décor, a home repair, or whether to enroll in a class.  It may involve getting in touch with a friend or relative from whom you feel distant right now.  Or maybe you want to write, or paint, or design clothes, but fear you have nothing to say or create that would appeal to others.

Whatever your hesitation, the next time you find yourself wanting to do something but feeling too timid or incompetent, take a close look at your fears.  They may be entirely reasonable and accurate.  But what if you are overestimating your limitations?  What do you have to gain, or lose, by making the attempt?  It might be a hard question to answer, but it’s never a bad idea to ask it.


  1. Carolyn

    So sorry to here that Jeff is having trouble . I hope that he can get the rest he needs. Julia, take care of yourself, your family needs you. I check Grady’s page every day to see new pictures. Keep me updated on Jeff and he is in our prayers as well as the rest of the family. I’m feeling pretty good, go back for check end of Sept. Love to all.

    • Hi Carolyn, we have some new photos and clips of Grady, but I haven’t gotten them posted yet. I think Jeff is feeling a little bit better now that they have ordered him to stay home and rest. We’ll keep you posted. Have a great weekend!

  2. Mike Bertoglio

    I agree about the anxiety levels in present day world. Perhaps a dark side of the Internet world. I think I will stop listening to NPR though I like the writer’s spots and bios. They had a recent story on animals and super-antibiotics in China that freaked me out.
    I think I am fearful of writing at times. Can I actually write this or that?

    • I think NPR is less hysterical than the major network channels (or at least the commentators don’t talk over each other and interrupt each other continually) but I agree that some of their programs are hard to take, and I think they are often slanted in a more subtle way. I thought they were way over the top to fire Juan Williams. Writing is a scary thing – it carries with it so many risks. There is always the risk of being criticized, misunderstood, misquoted, misrepresented, or out and out attacked by those who don’t like what you write. Nevertheless, some of us can’t really manage to NOT write. I think, in the end, my need to write usually outweighs my fears, but fears do hold a lot of us back from expressing ourselves in any setting.

  3. Mike Bertoglio

    But I also heard that evolution favors those who don’t take big risks. They stayed in the cave and did not go out and fight the saber tooth tiger. I probably would have done the same.

    • I’ve read research that indicates anxiety is, to a certain extent, linked to better survival. In that sense, optimism (if not tempered with good sense) can backfire. On the other hand, staying in the cave ALL the time would result in starvation, and one can get attacked by tigers while one is out gathering nuts and berries. Perhaps there were those who were happy to stay safely in the cave while others hunted for food. Not too different from people who want an all-volunteer military and police force to handle the dangers of the modern world, I guess. I’ve always thought, though, that one advantage the United States had from the earliest years (whether speaking of Europeans who came here, or indigenous people who were already here) is that only the very strong survived the diseases, conflicts, starvation, weather and other obstacles. Having the guts to head to uncharted territories, and the strength to survive the voyage, probably meant those who made it had a better-than-average chance of success in the coming years.

      • Nancy

        Your last comments are particularly true of the Africans that were forced to come, Julia…only the bravest and strongest survived.

        • Yes, and far worse was waiting for them when they got here. But as you say, the faith and strength of so many who survived is a lasting legacy.

  4. I love this photo!! Hope you are all well. Love you. A

    • Thanks, Amy! Come see us at York sometime and we’ll go tour those ships together. They’re quite interesting! I owe you a long phone call; much to tell since we last talked. Love to you all too!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, I’m thinking of you and your family this evening and hope these restful days are a welcome “time out” for all. I love the photo …. now there’s one more Denton guy in the clan!
    Hoping you have a good weekend, Sheila

    • Thank you, Sheila! Happy weekend to you and your family, too!

  6. Mike Bertoglio

    Yes it takes a lot of courage to put your writing out there- day after day. I don’t see how you do that. But as a writer you have to put with some degree of rejection-right?

    • In most cases, way more than “some degree.” There are all sorts of legendary stories about best-selling authors who could paper their walls with the hundreds (or even thousands) of rejection slips they got before they became famous. Sometime you should read about how John Grisham started out. It’s really interesting. As my friend Ashleigh Brilliant says, “It takes many years to be an overnight success.”

  7. OMgosh, this post is me to a T. I’m constantly talking myself off some self-imposed ledge. I don’t know when I became so neurotic about heights, flying and bridges but the sensible me is always struggling with my alter ego ‘Nutty Boomdee’. I read a fun post the other day, titled “The other side of fear is freedom”. I really loved her title because if you can let go of fear, it would be so liberating. This gal went sky-diving and my first thought was “look how crazy happy she looks”, but I know for a fact you’d have to ‘throw’ me out of that plane, you can check out her photo’s here:

    • Thanks for that link – it put a big smile on my face. We have a dear friend – a grandmother – who went skydiving for one of her “well in the senior range” birthdays. I was so excited for her! When she got back she said “Now I know why birds sing.” 🙂 As cool as these photos and stories are, don’t look for me wearing a parachute anytime soon. I think we all have our neuroses, and they are different for each person, but those of us who fear heights have a lot of company. I don’t mind bridges or tall buildings, but winding mountain roads with sheer cliffs terrify me.


  1. More power than will | Defeat Despair

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