Life Limitations

While you can have virtually anything you want, you can’t have everything you want.

Ray Dalio

I’ve been thinking a lot about limitations lately. While we’re often pretty good at avoiding facing our limitations we can’t deny that they’re there. And then there are times where we can’t escape them. Suddenly whole countries are under lockdown and our ability to move freely is severely limited. People cannot escape this and they get frustrated or angry.

The truth is that avoidance is the worst approach and getting frustrated a close second when it comes to dealing with limitations. Conscious consideration of them brings you closer to what you want in life. Only when you know what limits you can you chose to overcome them if you want and accept them if you must.

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A soldier spends every minute from the moment he wakes up to when he goes to sleep with a single purpose: training for battle. A top-athlete is dedicating every second of the day towards maximizing her performance at her sport. How does a day dedicated to the highest performance in knowledge work look like?

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You know those parts in movies where a blasting soundtrack comes on and the hero trains and progresses in about two minutes from zero to superstar? I’m thinking the Rocky Balboa training sequences (or any other boxing movie for that matter) or the limitless Eddie Morra sequence where he finishes his book, learns piano, some languages, and a bunch of other stuff in synch to a Black Keys banger.

Real-life doesn’t work like that of course. It’s often hard to get motivated long enough and push oneself hard enough to make big progress on skills. In turn, it’s easy to drop the ball when results don’t come quickly. It’s easy to go watch some Netflix instead.

There’s a scene in the book Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which probably would end up as a compilation should the book ever turn into a movie. Musashi is kept a prisoner in a castle. The room he finds himself in is small and dark. The only thing of interest in it is lots of books about strategy, warfare, and philosophy. A monk put him there to pay for his sins but also to learn. Musashi would stay years in this room, studying and training his body, until his sentence is finished. He returns a different man. He returns as a rough but capable Ronin.

This scene stuck with me because it wasn’t a compilation. No banging soundtrack, no quick two-minute sequence. The scene was dragging on a bit and making no real secret of the fact that reading and training was the only thing Musashi could do in his cell. Less of the sparks and more of real life.

It reminds me of the situation I find myself in these days. It’s the start of 2021, Germany is still under heavy lockdown due to Covid-19. I live in a small apartment and although I have all the comfort I need as well as the freedom to walk outside, I see some similarities to the scenes described above.

There’s not much to do. Everything used to socialize or entertain oneself is closed. I work from home and only meet more than one person through a digital screen. If I meet someone it’s to walk and talk or to drink tea or coffee at our homes. Entertainment is mostly found on a screen as well. Thanks to the internet there are plenty of options.

However, couldn’t this be compilation material? What if you would learn a new skill or train your body during all those months of lockdown? Because of lacking social events and commuting there is suddenly more time available each day for these things. There are also fewer distractions (if you can keep Netflix at bay). In some way, these are almost ideal conditions to get your habits on point and develop yourself further.

I for my part started learning to code. I also increased my reading and exercise regime. Lastly, I decided to write regularly again. I might as well be fitter and more knowledgeable coming out of this lockdown than going into it. Lockdown will end and I want to step out of my apartment a bit like Musashi, fit and prepared for the next chapters.

How would you feel in a couple of weeks and months, if you raise from lockdown fit, maybe with new language skills or a finished personal project, while others have waited for life to return to normal?

I’m pretty sure it would be great compilation material.

A Simpler Life

I stepped out of the train and could already smell the sea. There was a small building with a ticket office and behind it, a rock wall specked with vegetation. It took a moment for me to orient myself. I spotted a sign that said Montereggione and went where it was pointing.

A couple of minutes later I walked the main street of the small fisher village down to the seashore. The village was beautifully nestled between hills right at the shore of the Mediterranean sea. I could already smell fried fish from the open restaurant doors and saw people eating outside at the tables. I realized then how hungry I was and decided to put my backpack down and seat myself at the next free table. I ordered myself a plate of fish and vegetables. I was in no hurry.

Two days ago I knew nothing about Montereggione and Cinque Terre, a region with five small villages at the east Italien coast. I planned to go straight to Rome. However, after I was told about this place by a charming French girl over a glass of wine at the riverbank of the Arno, I decided to come here to see it myself. I ended up spending almost a week here hiking from village to village with my backpack and reading Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden in cafés. It really felt like I’ve found paradise.

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