I read in The New York Times recently that there is a new type of literature called the anti-self-help or anti-improvement genre. A New York Times article told me that a number of authors have written self-help books telling people to stop reading self-help books. I did think those authors were a little hypocritical however I continued reading the article on this new anti-improvement genre.
One such anti-self-help book mentioned was called Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, written by a Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann. This book sounded so depressing I got to the point of hoping that The New York Times had badly misrepresented Mr Brinkmann and his book.
According to The New York Times, Mr Brinkmann thinks it’s a good idea for us to daily contemplate our mortality. He is also totally against making positive change in life. In the chapter “Dwell on the Past,” he advises that if someone comes up with a visionary idea you should tell them that everything was better in the old days. “Explain to them that the idea of ‘progress’ is only a few hundred years old — and is, in fact, destructive.”
Here is another quote from The New York Times (March 11, 2017) about the book, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze.
Mr Brinkmann’s book, like Mr Manson’s, takes the stand that life is hard and you’re not special, so instead of focusing on shallow quantities like happiness or success as defined by others in our culture of constant acceleration, you should acknowledge your limitations and learn to love your morning bowl of pebbles.
Mr Brinkmann, do you think the truly inspirational leaders of history devoted time to “acknowledging their limitations”? Did Thomas Jefferson accept his limitations? Did you say to himself, “Oh well, we belong to the British Empire. They don’t treat us fairly, but that’s life. That’s my limitation?” No he did not. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and became the third president of the United States after independence from Britain. He wrote that “loyal Americans were of one mind to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Mr Brinkmann this famous document refers to “the pursuit” of happiness. A pursuit calls for decisive and determined action. Thomas Jefferson wrote that we need to “pursue” happiness, not just shuffle slowly towards it or accept out limitations or stay home eating pebbles.
Did Nelson Mandela acknowledge his limitations? During his 20 years in jail in South Africa did he say to himself, “I wanted to dismantle apartheid, but I ended up in jail. Oh well, that’s my limitations. I better give up”. No he was true to his ideals and became South Africa’s first black president.
If every over-achiever followed the advice of “knowing their limitations” they would have never over achieved! The world belongs to dreamers. It belongs to those of us who are brave enough to deny our limitations. Yes, these limitations may even be a realistic appraisal of our abilities. Remember my teacher in high school told me I’d amount to nothing. I wasn’t the brightest kid and I had a troubled background, so this assessment of my limitations was probably fair. And yet here I am. I’ve had a wonderful career, travelling the world, appearing on stage, and meeting thousands of people. I am very happy I rejected any limitations people have sought to place on me – however realistic they were. As I have always said, life is an endless progression and so is success. It involves going from one stage to another, but it does not involve accepting your limitations.
Some people may tell you that you are totally unrealistic in refusing to accept limitations. Winston Churchill refused to accept his limitations, especially through World War II. If you look at any statistics, the British were certainly outclassed by the Germans going into World War II and yet Churchill just refused to lose. He rejected every realistic limitation. The Germans invented the first assault rifle in World War II, they had the largest and strongest tank, Tiger II, they had the first jet to see combat in the world, the first cruise missiles. The Germans had more air power and man power than England and still Churchill denied reality and said the British would prevail.
Churchill was known to have bipolar depression. He would descent into darkness when down but, when he was up, he believed he was invincible. He delivered rallying speeches to the people of Britain. He made a very famous address to the Houses of Commons in 1940.
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
The inspiration he gave to his troops and people helped save the lives of millions of people. It staved off a German invasion. Thank goodness Churchill was totally and utterly unrealistic when it came to accepting limits.
I have only this to say about accepting limits – it’s dangerous. Never tell a child to accept their limits and never tell yourself to accept limits. At the end of the day if you “accept your limitations” you are actually imposing limits on yourself, which will stop your growth, undermine your potential and inevitably prevent you from being the special person you should be!
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.