The Benefits of Limitation


” . . . the moment you recognize a limitation as a limitation, you transcend it – in the sense that you either brainstorm ways to let that limitation go and exist in its own right, or find ways to close the gap of where you are and where you want to be.”

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In a previous blog post, I wrote about generative moments – what they are and how they can be beneficial. These moments where change feels certain and ideas feel tangible are ultimately born out of frustration; an aversion for things being a certain way and a desire for them to be different. While you might feel limited in your capacity for change, there is value in that limitation.

I Don’t Know.

Sometimes, the smartest thing you can say is, “I don’t know.” Set aside the axiom that it is better to remain silent and appear wise than open your mouth and be thought a fool. This is a worthwhile saying, but not useful for our purposes. Sometimes, saying, “I don’t know,” is a precursor to a desire for knowledge.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher and founder of German idealism, is quoted as saying, “The very fact that something is determined as a limitation implies that the limitation is already transcended.” It’s interesting that Helgel’s philosophies were essentially inverted and turned into materialist principles by Marx. Hegel saw value in limitation, while perhaps Marx saw limitation as an unnecessary and unwelcome byproduct of the entire system.

But the moment you recognize a limitation as a limitation, you transcend it – in the sense that you either brainstorm ways to let that limitation go and exist in its own right, or find ways to close the gap of where you are and where you want to be.

In the song, “Faithful Son,” Frank Turner croons, “What would any of us do if all the dreams we had came true?
What would there be left to dream about?”
Dreams are born out of limitation. One could thus argue that success is born out of limitation as well.

Wisdom Transcends.

In law, malum prohibitum refers to actions the state has deemed unlawful, while malum en se refers to actions collective society has deemed not only unlawful, but against human nature – against the collective good.

Wisdom, in this sense, transcends law. If the law is a square, wisdom is a circle that fits inside the square. These two shapes that coexist as one entity but separate entities are representative of this idea. There is law and there is collective wisdom. One may not and cannot exist without the other, but wisdom is found transcendent of law.

Similarly, while limitation exists as a foundation for knowledge or acquired skill or possession of a material good in exchange for labor, there is something transcendent that exists far beyond that limitation.

What You Really Want.

What you really want lies beyond what you want. Those generative moments we spoke of don’t truly begin until some heavy drilling begins. In the 2nd Edition of the Coaching Psychology Manual, Moore, Jackson, and Tschannen-Moran (2016) note that you might ask someone for a hypothetically perfect solution to a particular problem and they will respond with an ideal answer. Consider someone who is working on developing healthy eating habits. An ideal scenario might be:

“I want those habits to be automatic, where I don’t even have to think about eating well. I want to feel good about what I eat and have time for other activities. Not only would I save time, I’ll retain some of the cognitive and emotional energy it takes to maintain a healthy diet.”

Ultimately, there are a number of motivations here. More energy, more time, feeling good about food choices, and a desire for a greater sense of autonomy and control when it comes to food. So, what this hypothetical dieter really wants lies beyond what he or she wants. The desire to eat well is born out of a desire to see, feel, or experience something else. But you can’t get to the heart of what you really want until you drill. Why do you want what you want?

You can’t really start drilling until you recognize limitation; until you see there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. You need to at least have an idea of where to start drilling if you want to strike oil. Without limitation and without need, there is no creativity, no problem solving, and no autonomy. This doesn’t suggest we create need, but that we empower people to transcend limitation.

Hegel’s limitation has far more value than Marx’s materialism. Just as you are so much more than a number on the scale, you are so much more complex and unique than mere possession of a series of material items.

There is value in limitation.


Moore, M., Jackson, E., Tschannen-Moran, B., & Wellcoaches Corporation. (2016). Coaching psychology manual.