Pushing Past Our Own Limitations


I miss my father.

We used to have great conversations especially over dinner.

A really memorable one took place in the fall of my junior year when I was at boarding school.

In early October, my Dad picked me up and we sped off to our favorite place, the Fox & Fox, a fine dining restaurant on a winding road in western Connecticut.

When Dad learned I was taking a U.S. History class, he happily engaged me, debating  about the early days of our country and the founders. We argued over Hamilton’s Federalist views and Jefferson’s Republican ones.

I was impressed at his recall and easy acquisition of dates, names and events as if he’d just read them – like I had.

I’d chosen an Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History class because if I wanted to get into a decent college, I was going to have to seriously apply myself.

But this was a real AP class, a college course, and the work was punishing.

I jocularly debated with him but then I made a confession.

“Dad, I’m trying really hard to get this stuff but there’s so much to learn. We read a minimum of 50 pages a night in the textbook and have heated discussions in class. I’m enjoying it but it takes all my energy and I’m barely holding on. I feel like I keep pushing and pushing but am just not getting it.

He listened attentively and nodded.

“I know exactly what you’re talking about,” he replied. “Don’t stop.”

I looked up at him, the frustration etched on my face.

“Think of it like this,” he continued, sitting back in his chair,

“Imagine that you’re in a giant bubble."

"This bubble is made of everything you know. It’s a comfortable bubble and as you sit in the center of it, it feels safe. You’re surrounded by everything that’s familiar.”

I leaned in closer.

“Now imagine that you want to expand that bubble. Where do you have to be?” He looked at me pointedly.

I thought about it for a moment.

“At the edge.”

Exactly,” he replied, snapping his finger. “You have to be on the edge pushing with all of your might, pushing and pushing to expand that bubble.”

I sat there contemplating his imagery as he continued.

“It takes a lot of effort to expand that bubble – that’s where you are right now, pushing against the edge.”

I nodded in agreement. “Okay,” I replied tentatively.

“But then all of a sudden, the bubble expands.”

As he said this he drew his hands up and made a larger circle. “The work you’re doing becomes easier. Your bubble has grown with that new knowledge, that new challenge.”

I understood his analogy.

“So keep pushing sweetie, you’re almost there. You’ll see it’ll get easier before you know it.”

I smiled at him, hoping his words were indeed true.

He drove me back to school an hour or so later and I resumed my studies, trying desperately to hold my own.

Just as my father predicted that night, I broke through.

My A.P. History class did get easier. I still had to do all the work but suddenly it was simpler to retain information and hook concepts together, and I became more adept at writing and speaking about the facts.

30 years later, I’m still grateful for that lesson.

I use my father’s bubble analogy today especially when I feel like I’m head butting against the wall. Change and growth require us to push beyond our limitations of knowledge.

Whenever we embrace something new, that initial learning curve can feel daunting. 

It happened not long ago when I went back to school and happens in small ways all the time. Like when I decide to learn a new computer program or social media platform.

And yet this is what life requires of us- growth.

To constantly be pushing out, pushing into the unknown, expanding our bubble.

The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with learning something new, take a step back. Honor all that you already know, the size and majesty of the bubble that surrounds you.

Relax, knowing that your efforts will succeed.

And soon that “new” program or system that seems so hard right now will be just another tool in your repertoire.

What do you think about the bubble?

Leave me a comment below, I'd love to know your thoughts!

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