Know your limits

Whenever I ask the wonderful people I work with about their thoughts on limits, I receive a consistent response: “Don’t limit yourself!” “The sky is the limit!” “Limits are only real if you make them real!” These clichéd answers highlight one thing quite effectively: we have a rather convoluted relationship with limits.

We tend to avoid them as if they were kryptonite to Superman. Limits, as we are often taught, are seen as obstacles working against us and are thought to be meant only for the weak. This is yet another symptom of the “hustle culture” that has amplified this perception. Admitting to limits has become taboo. Our understanding of growth is greatly hindered by this mindset. We falsely believe that growth must be infinite, and we must constantly push our limits further and further.

If I look around, I see many victims of this notion – people who went above and beyond in their efforts to scale. They stretched themselves thin, resorted to unethical practices, and made decisions they typically wouldn’t. When I talk to them, I see their goodness, their passion, but their voices carry the undertone of compulsion. It’s then that I suggest, “Maybe you’ve exceeded your limits.” It’s not uncommon for people to feel offended.

To those who believe in a ‘no-limit’ approach, suggesting they might have limits sounds downright insulting. That’s when I ask them to show me a single tree, plant, or animal on Earth that’s growing limitlessly. They can’t. Yet, for some reason, they think human beings should be exempt from such a rule. We’re not.

It’s a scientific principle that everything has a natural limit. There’s a threshold in every living thing at which the system’s efficiency starts to plateau and even decline. Ignoring this threshold puts the entire organism at risk of collapse. A tree that grows too tall will break. A bird that’s too heavy can’t fly. Some might argue that a tree could grow a wider trunk and a bird could develop stronger wings.

However, this is precisely where the breaking point comes into play. Growing a wider trunk and stronger wings requires disproportionately intense investments with returns close to zero.

Building a business is akin to growing a tree or flying an airplane. First, there’s the takeoff phase, requiring immense energy. Then, there’s the energy-intensive climb. Here’s where it gets interesting. Any airplane reaches a point called the “cruising altitude.” This is when things become safer, calmer, better, and more efficient. 

Once you’re at this altitude, whether you’re flying an airplane or running a business, things begin to glide and become effortless. You’re operating within the zone of maximum efficiency, and any investment you make yields the best possible result. Going higher or lower would compromise this reality.

Yet, those who deny the existence of limits think they can keep climbing. What happens to them is like what happens to an airplane: the air gets thinner, more power is required to stay afloat, everyone must remain vigilant, and eventually, the plane can’t ascend further, regardless of how hard they pull at the yoke. This creates an atmosphere of stress and frustration. Your business doesn’t level out; the engines struggle, and the more you invest, the less you get in return.

What does this mean? 

Take a hard look at your organization and identify the built-in limits early on.

Determine how far you can grow without compromising the value you offer. 

Recognize when your growth is likely to plateau and become a hindrance to your mission.

Identify the resources that will eventually lose efficiency if pushed too far. 

What are the “non-replaceables” in your business that are essential to creating value?

In my case, it was clear: I had considered training other coaches to expand my business, but I realized early on that the value of my business is tied to me. My message delivery holds all the relevance, and I am the natural limit. Training and hiring other coaches would have taken my plane into air too thin to navigate. It takes great courage to acknowledge your limits and even more to act accordingly.

Drawing a line that you shall not cross is the ultimate form of self-discipline. It’s what we owe to ourselves and the people who support us.

Happiness in business hinges on our ability to glide effortlessly. Work should not be toil. Reject the idea of an eternal climb and struggle. Find your altitude, level out, sit back, and do your thing!

By OLIVIER EGLI

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