Do You Limit Yourself

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 16 2011

I have this friend who “can’t” or “doesn’t” do so many things I sometimes wonder how she gets out of bed in the morning. She’s a writer, but she “can’t” write a synopsis because it’s not how she writes and she’s a reader but she “can’t” read dark thrillers because she’s too happy of a person, and she’s a foodie but she “doesn’t” eat curry (which by the way is a fancy term for a blend of spices).

Ultimately what this friend is saying is that she’s afraid. She’s afraid to try new things or re-explore areas that might not have worked all that well for her in the past. She’s afraid of failing or of not liking something, so afraid that she’s “can’t”-ed herself into a box. Her world has become increasingly smaller because of all of the things she “can’t” or “doesn’t” do. It’s frustrating and sad because this same friend will complain about how hard it is to get published or find new restaurants or discover great books, but when offered suggestions, before trying, she comes up with a list of excuses why she can’t.

I firmly believe that the only limitations we have in this world are those we make for ourselves. You want to climb Mt. Everest? What’s stopping you? No, really? What’s stopping you? You want to write a great novel? What’s stopping you?

To break free and find great success you need to break free of the limitations you place on yourself. There are enough people in this world trying to tell you what you can’t do, why are you doing it to yourself?


54 responses to “Do You Limit Yourself”

  1. Avatar T. Wolfe says:

    Great post. Thank you! Now I need to stop delaying and get back to doing. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  2. Avatar magolla says:

    Good post, Jessica!

    I know we all tend to get in our comfortable ruts, but sometimes it takes one foray into the realm of the unknown to realize what we might have been missing all these years.

  3. This is a very difficult kind of friend to have. I know, I've had several. The Can't Box is an especially dangerous thing, because to the person who's doing all the Can't-ing it doesn't really *seem* like anything's amiss. "Can't" feels like it's Not You: like its dyslexia or diabetes. I feel the same way about "But That's Just How I Am" (about something that's clearly making me unhappy and holding me back but I do it anyway because of this. And when I say "You know, you *can* just…change your behavior," They don't believe me. Like I'm speaking Farsi. Like I suggested they fly to the moon on gossamer wings instead of oh, say "Get a Twitter Acct", "Get a New Agent", "Engage with the Writing Community"

  4. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    No kidding. I see this in the nonfiction freelance writing world all the time. Oh, I can't do business writing. Oh, I wouldn't want to write that, it would crush my soul. Oh, I can't…

    Try it. You might surprise yourself.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and it's not just about writing. I have a relative who will complain about everything under the sun, but when you give her the simplest solution to her problem, she has five reasons why she can't do it.

    I have discovered that cutting off the complaints stops a lot of them. Just saying, "Yeah, that stinks," gets the focus off the person not wanting to do whatever it is. Then at that point, without someone sitting there voicing all the ways she COULD solve her problem, she actually thinks of them on her own and does her own problem-solving.

    Harriet Lerner. The Dance of Anger. Awesome book.

  6. Avatar Sara Murphy says:


  7. Avatar Colin Smith says:

    I didn't think I could write a synopsis for my novel (really didn't want to write one either) until an agent I queried asked for one. What was I going to do? Say "no, sorry, can't do that"? So I gritted my teeth and wrote the synopsis. The agent didn't end up taking me on, but now I have a synopsis for my novel.

  8. "Many a man has walked up to the opportunity for which he has long been preparing himself, looked it full in the face, and then begun to get cold feet…when it comes to betting on yourself and your power to do the thing you know you must do or write yourself down a failure, you’re a chicken-livered coward if you hesitate." – B.C. Forbes

  9. Avatar Ashelyn says:

    Very well said. I think we all have friends like that, people who tend to become comfortably in what they know. I like living by the motto "Try everything at least once" (unless it's food, and then you try it twice). But it's frustrating because it's their loss, and while you want to help them there is really nothing you can do.

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Inaction is much easier for most people as it is the status quo. Action means movement, energy, uncertainty…it means propelling oneself forward into the black abyss of the unknown…it means progress and many people are scared of progress.

  11. Avatar Cynthia says:

    The unknown is scary, but it is also exciting. Reach for the unknown in your goals- you might actually like what you see.

  12. Avatar Jill Thomas says:

    I love this post and will be cross-posting, Facebooking and Tweeting! I couldn't agree more. I personally hope I am never content. One of my favorite feelings in the world is that knot that forms in my stomach when I'm trying something new and unknown. Carpe diem!

  13. Thanks! Just the kick in the butt I needed.

  14. A wonderful post. We're on the same wavelength somehow; I just composed a similar blog post this morning about my own writing journey, and then opened the e-mail with your post.

    As an educator, I see students placing limitations in front of themselves all the time, and often wish I could do more to help them avoid the practice.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I can't agree with you more

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I am guilty of this and I needed to be jabbed with a pointy stick. So thanks 🙂

  17. Can’t agree more, Jessica.

    I once heard that, to conquer fear, you should do one thing every day that frightens you. Easier said than done, but it’s great advice and really helps. Your reminder is also helpful for getting back on track. Thanks.

  18. We create our own realities, plain and simple. If we "can't" do something, it's because we tell ourselves we can't. We write our mental stories, and bow to the author. Our life is exactly how we created it to be. This is a tough truth to swallow for many (myself included when I'm in a rut), but it's the way life works.

    One of my favorite quotes by George Bernard Shaw is: Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself. (I love that quote so much, I've got it on my blog profile.)

    It seems easier to say you "can't", but there's no joy in that, only complacency, status quo, and defeat. Joy exists in striving, challenging, participating, and doing.

    Like the saying goes, "You miss 100% of the balls you don't swing at." So, get out there and swing, baby, swing!

  19. That type of attitude always really gets to me when I meet people like that in real life…

    Hey, if a 7 year old kid who has stress ulcers 'cause she can't read/write like the other kids in her class can put in the effort and eventually graduate with an Honours degree from a great university (that required a second language), then there's no reason other people can't do amazing things by facing their own fears and putting in a little effort.

    If I haven't let my own crippling dyslexia hold me back, why should she let her fears hold her back?

    Sure, when I'm tired, I can't type a correctly spelled sentence to save my life, but I'm not going to let that stop me from practicing the craft of writing until I get where I want to go.

  20. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    When you know your body, and your reactions to events, or books, or movies that's good. By not doing the things that cause you distress, emotionally or physically, you honor yourself.

    But instead of saying "can't" to everything, because truth is you "could" you come off sounding whiny and fearful. Try "I prefer not to" and if you have no cause to reject something because you've never tried it (just your own trepidation and imagination that makes you fearful) give that new thing a shot. I thought I hated social media. I resisted for a long time, then joined Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. I found them harmless, but also found that me and Facebook are a perfect match. : )

    Stay alive and aware and engaged, and the only way you do that is by trying new things, discovering new pleasures. You never know what you'll find. Be daring!

  21. Avatar Martin Rose says:

    I had a friend like that. Actually, a number of them.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to keep them; once you start crawling your way out of the Can't-Box, the other ones get resentful . . .

  22. Avatar SBJones says:

    Reminds me of the first time I had sushi. It was awful. Little did I know the people I went with ordered the grossest things for me intentionally. I avoided sushi for about 10 years till someone else invited me. I turned them down after explaining.

    I gave it a second try after they assured me the other people were being mean. He was right. Sushi is very very good. There's a huge difference between squeezed eyeball jelly sushi and real sushi.

  23. Thank you for this post.

    I realize that many times, I say why I can't. I think I should change my tune and simply ask, "Why not?"

  24. I have a whole list of things that used to be CAN'Ts which are now not only fun but fairly easy. The more of them I overcome, the faster the rest of them fall. That includes my old writer CANTs (queries, writing everyday, writing when I don't have a large block of time available, doing more than one writing session a day).

  25. Posted on twitter because this post deserves it. Those negative "can't"s are how people put themselves in a box and not be willing to step out and take a risk. Well I know I will have to take a risk in showing my artistic talents sooner or later.

    I would imagine that editing with the help of an editor would be a fun (despite hard/challenging) process. Something to look forward to. It does involve stepping out of your comfort zone and it sounds your friend might make up excuses for that too. *sigh*

  26. Fantastic post. I use to limit myself and, yes, it was because I was afraid. Afraid of myself. I push myself these days. Sometimes digging my heels in, but I keep pushing. I'm happier for it. Have a great weekend! 🙂

  27. You "can't" be brave unless you are afraid. Unafraid people don't need to be brave.

  28. Avatar kymlucas says:

    I think it's so important to try new things. As children we're forced to do this all the time just by going to school. But when we leave formal education, we need to seek out new experiences. Not only does this make us more well-rounded, it also helps keep our brain healthy. While it's true there will be things we are actually unable to do, there's no way of knowing until we try.

  29. You got it, Jessica! Words from the wise.

    LOVED this! To break free and find great success you need to break free of the limitations you place on yourself. There are enough people in this world trying to tell you what you can't do, why are you doing it to yourself?

  30. Live would certainly be boring if I didn't try new things.

    And if you've found you don't like something, take another approach. Just like the sushi experience stated above, my first Indian food experience wasn't so great and I avoided it for the longest time.

    Big mistake. Nan, tandoori chicken, kheer. Yum yum yum.

  31. Well, with Mt. Everest, there might very well be physical or financial reasons you can't. But not with writing. You might not be good at something right away, but you can work on building that skill and become better. What's going to stop you*, other than yourself?

    (OK, OK, I'll allow extenuating circumstances in some cases because I don't like making statements that 100% apply to everybody in all situations. But for most people, "can't" means "won't" or "is afraid to".)

  32. Avatar natalie says:

    This is a great post and reminds me of something I say to my personal training clients all the time. It's a quote from an ee cummings poem (though I can't remember which at this moment):

    "our can'ts were born to be."

    Whenever I want to say "I can't," I think about that quote and plow through.

  33. Avatar G says:

    Good post.

    I've had quite a few people call me a "hack" and that I'll never amount to anything.

    I wear that insult as a badge of honor and a great motivator. Even if I never have anymore success than what I currently have (two published short stories), I'll have the satisfaction that I proved my naysayers wrong.

  34. I teach circus in school residencies, and on the first day we tell the students,

    Can't means WON'T and WON'T means PUSH-UPS.

    We explain that "I can't do this" is a cop-out, and it's difficult to help them. If they identify the problem – "Where should my foot go?" "My partner keeps dropping me" "I keep dropping my partner" "How can I get my hand up there?" – then we can help them.

    After that, every time they use the word "can't", they have to drop and do ten push-ups.

    So yeah – we should think about what's going on, and identify the problem, rather than just saying "can't."

    In the end, most "can't"s really mean, "I'm scared."

  35. Avatar Rebecca Kiel says:

    Whenever someone has told me that I can't do something, I do it ten times better. There's this part of me that gets fired up and defiant. When I first started sharing that I was writing, I was told "Whatever happens, at least you can feel good you tried.". Exactly what I wanted to hear. Off to write…

  36. My favorite "can't" is "you can't take it with you."

  37. Avatar Jonathan Dalar says:

    Amen!I'll order something on a menu just because I haven't tried it before, and that has included tons of food from out of the way, mom n' pops joints in foreign countries.I'll try anything in the world, and probably do it more than once.I'm an adrenalin junkie, a foreign country collector, and a strong advocate of "because it's there."I hate synopses with a purple passion running deep in the bottom of my soul. I roll up my sleeves and grit them out until they're polished because that's what's needed.Do it or don't. You've got the rest of your life to do it, and if you don't, oh well. Your loss.

  38. Wow!

    I needed this today. I'm not really going to throw in the towel, but sometimes it's so dang tempting!

  39. As a writer who has been publishing since 1979, I can tell you I have had to reINVENT myself over and over again, and it was in the learning to never say NO to a project that kept me getting published. It is so easy to talk yourself out of a writing project, as easy as saying, "I don't (can't) do that kind of book, story, novel" I have cut across every genre for just about every audience with elements of every kind of story imaginable, and I have dared to tackle hugely ambitious projects and points of view as wildly disparate as a Cuban female detective in Old Havana to a female sleuth working for the FBI who travels to Hawaii, London, across the USA. No place or gender is safe from me. No subject taboo. That is what a writer is/does/lives.

    Great post. Stay Positive, Persistent, Perservering to keep you PQ higher than your IQ.


  40. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Important to keep reminding ourselves that sometimes the only thing that stops us from succeeding is our fear of failure.

  41. Avatar Nicole says:

    What's stopping me from climbing Everest? Money. A great deal of money. As in, I don't have any.

    Not that I really want to climb Everest, but if I *did* that's what would stop me. Haha.

    All right, time to stop procrastinating…

  42. Avatar mjzimmer says:

    What a great kick in the pants. I'll take your challenge and write that synopsis. I'm starting now.

  43. Avatar Tim Dodge says:

    I think we all have this insidious voice in the backs of our heads saying, "Don't be an idiot! You can't do that! You'll make a fool of yourself." That voice regularly speaks to me, as in "You can't sell a short story to a top market" or "You can't self-publish an e-book and make any money" or "That publisher won't want your book." As Kurt Vonnegut said, "And so it goes."

    If I listen to the voice, I never try anything, so I have to force myself to tune it out. So I send out the queries, write the stories, force myself to approach an author at a convention, send the e-mail to a potential freelance client, and so on.

    It's people who surrender to the negative self-talk, then complain to whoever will listen about how they can't do anything, that drive us nuts. Thank you for this post. It's a loud and clear reminder that I don't want to be that person. I'll remember it next time I feel like complaining (out loud) about my problems.

  44. Avatar Q. Kelly says:

    Regardless of publication goals (say you're going indie), writing a synopsis is useful. It gets your story to the basics. I'm not much of a plotter. I have a one-paragraph idea of what I want for the story, and from that, I often let the characters guide me. But there's no reason anyone shouldn't be able to write a synopsis after a book has been written (or even if it is at say, the halfway point). At the halfway point, you should have a rough idea where it is going.

  45. Beautiful! You are so right!
    I work with young children and my favourite phrase is, 'have a go!' The limitations, the 'I can'ts' begin unfortunately very early. I hear it and immediately cringe. There will be no one that comes anywhere near me that will ever get away with 'I can't!'
    And they can get pretty big, those 'I can'ts' if you let them. I break them down with 'have a go' and you know, they just get smaller each time you do….try!

  46. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    Loved this post. I have a few things I want to do right now, but can't for financial reasons. Instead of writing those goals off completely, I am finding other ways to make them happen. No, I don't have endless money to attend a writer's conference, but I can attend a local workshop and keep saving toward the bigger goal.

  47. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I blame teachers and parents for instilling the "I can't do x" attitude in kids these days. The sad part is when the kids start believing it and continue to believe it into adulthood.

    Sure, due to money limitations and health, there are somethings folks cannot afford to do or cannot do, but that's a different kind of limitation.

    But I do think this is a mental game. I know that when I go to the gym to jog 4 miles that my mind tells me to stop before my body needs to stop. It's pushing past that mental block that is tough.

    And as a writer, we do need cheerleaders to help us get past those sticking points, which is one of the reasons why I love nanowrimo. It's not the word count that matters to me; it's the community that cheers each other on that makes it so special. I can't stress how much this community helps my writing.

  48. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Interesting post, but I am missing something. So what if some people don't read dark thrillers? You don't represent those anyway. (Do you?) And I have never eaten curry and probably never will, since I never go into Indian restaurants and probably never will. (Chinese is another matter.) And as for writing a great novel, I wrote the greatest novel ever. And nobody is interested in it.

    I am thinking about throwing it away.

    So what?

  49. Thanks Jessica, I agree with you 100%. Thanks for the time in Auckland, my novel you liked in the cold reads is nearly ready for the RWNZ Strictly Single Comp this week. Thanks for the motivation.
    BACK to my Dragon!
    PS, started a blog!

  50. I used to say I "can't" write an oultine before writing a book because it would spoil the surprise of finding out what happens in the story. I used to have one page of notes and that was it. I recently wrote a 9k outline (okay, it's a tad on the long side) for a mystery book and now I'm pumped to write the book itself because I know what's going to happen and I won't write myself into a corner. Knowing what's happening frees me to get on with the wordsmithing. I never thought I'd be an outliner, but here I am, loving every minute of it! And to think I said I couldn't do it…

  51. Can't is a bad word in our family. My kids are NOT allowed to say that nasty word. Great post!

  52. Great interersting!_

  53. Avatar Kate says:

    Awesome post. I have a friend like this myself and I have to bite my tongue when she complains about her life. If she were more open-minded, her life could look very different.

    I have to say, I was once a reader who refused to read most contemporary and all commercial fiction. After I started reading your blog a few years ago, I decided to broaden my scope and found some genres I now love!