It would take me years of reading, thought, and experience to learn again that in this world limits are not only inescapable but indispensable.Wendell Berry
We actually went to a movie theater this week-end. Remember those? Though we love the convenience of our instant access world, there is still something magical about watching a movie on the big screen with popcorn and Coke in hand. Something nostalgically decadent. I digress.
The movie we chose to see was House of Gucci, directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a high profile cast: Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, and Adam Driver. The movie is dark and tragic on many levels but ultimately serves up a cautionary tale on the dangers of unbridled ambition and a world without limits or resistance. I won’t reveal the plot but will instead focus on the problem of limits. Well actually, the problems that appear when we don’t have limits or aren’t forced to grow through resistance.
The movie centered on characters who went off the rails because they were unable to harness their passions in a world that was offering little resistance to them…at least for a time. The resistance will eventually come, or at least the price that has to be paid when we live for our unfettered selves. Each character fell into the trap of excess that eventually led to their undoing. Serious undoing.
In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, author Jordan Peterson’s Rule #5 states: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. His ultimate point is that children thrive when we place constraints on their natural inclination toward self-centeredness. Without limits or discipline, they default to the natural human state of selfishness. Without the resistance of rules, structure, and discipline, they cannot become the best version of themselves.
Why do we have laws? Because human beings have difficulty constraining their desires. Without limits, we run toward the far end of our inclination to have things our way. We want it the way we want it, and, we want it now. We are prone to take advantage of circumstances if we perceive that the risk is low for us. Some are prone to taking advantage even when risk is high. However, selfishness isn’t the only problem that occurs in the absence of constraints.
In Limits Empower Us, I reference the dot.com boom and bust as an example of economic failures resulting from a lack of financial constraints. During the late 90’s, investment was easy to find for ventures having just about anything to do with the internet. The massive amount of money available created a “gold rush” mentality as many people became convinced that the traditional “rules” of business and the market had been turned upside down by new technology. As financial constraints disappeared, so did the disciplines of managing profit and loss, market research, and even business model validation.
Without the process of learning that occurs through market resistance and financial discipline, dot.com entrepreneurs were unable to evolve their businesses into sustainable enterprises. The lack of constraints brought on by the gold rush destroyed their ability to learn quickly enough to iterate their business models and, in many cases, precluded the upfront discipline of vetting their business plan through a rigorous venture capital evaluation process. The ultimate bust was painful for everyone.
Recent stock market losses, particularly in the healthcare and health tech space, though less dramatic, share some common ground with the market correction brought on in the dot.com bust.
Tension Strengthens Us
The tension of resistance strengthens us. We need limits to help us focus. Constraints force us to get creative, improve, learn, evolve, and build ourself to whatever level is necessary for achievement. Resistance disciplines us to the behaviors that are necessary to earn what we want.
None of us want constraints. Whether we’re five or fifty, we want it our way. Early on, we depend on our parents to provide the structure and help us learn how to navigate resistance in safe environments. As we get older, we learn the importance of discipline but it doesn’t necessarily get easier. We will forever be seeking shortcuts as we try to find ways to get what we want more easily or more quickly. Given the option, we’ll always want to pay less.
Limits, resistance, constraints, rules, tension: they are all critical for us to become our best. We can’t build muscle without working against some level of resistance. We can’t learn how to solve a problem unless we have to work at it. We can’t learn to get along until we develop a level of trust that comes from knowing that everyone is operating within the same set of rules. We won’t find a way to fly unless the constraints we feel force us to get creative in building our wings.
When It’s Easy
When it’s easy, we take it easy. When it’s easy, we view it as having less value. When it’s easy, we get sloppy. When it’s easy, we don’t appreciate it. When it’s easy, we don’t learn. When it’s easy, we don’t grow. When it’s easy, we can’t become the best version of ourself. When it’s easy, we fall into the trap of self-centeredness and self-gratification. Why? Because there’s no reason not to. Because we can.
February is here and the enthusiasm of the new year might be starting to fade. Snow may be on the ground. COVID is still causing disruption. People are still being people and things are as challenging as ever. Damn this is hard. Good. That is just the resistance you need. Embrace the limits. Grip the constraints. Push up against the tension. Flex against it all. Press hard and push through. Get creative. Stay disciplined. Learn. Iterate. Improve. Q1 is still fresh, 2022 is still getting into gear, and the sky is still the limit. Allow the resistance to help you get where you need to be. Demand it.