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Feb-08-2011 01:31printcomments

A Cut Above Average; Rising Above Your Limitations

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go - James Baldwin

Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman Courtesy:

(CHARLESTON S.C.) - A story is told that after physicist Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize for his work, he visited his old high school. While there, he decided to look up his records. He was surprised to find that his grades were not as good as he had remembered them.

He really got a kick out of the fact that his IQ was 124, not much above average. Dr. Feynman saw that winning the Nobel Prize was one thing, but to win it with an IQ of only 124 was really something. Most people would assume that all winners of Nobel Prizes have an exceptionally high IQ. Feynman confided that he always assumed that he had.

If Feynman had known that he was really just a bit above average in the IQ department, we wonder if he would have had the audacity to launch the unique and creative research experiments that would eventually win him the greatest recognition the scientific community can give.

Perhaps not. Maybe the knowledge that he was a cut above average, but not in the genius category, would have influenced what he tried to achieve. After all, from childhood most of us have been led to believe that ordinary people don’t accomplish extraordinary feats.

Most of us fall short of our potential because of little things we know or assume about ourselves. And the most self-defeating assumptions of all are that we are just like everyone else.

The key to growth as a leader rests in your belief that there are no limitations that can hold you back if you act in a manner consistent with how you see yourself. Here are three truths about limitations that will help you move forward.

The hardest limitations to overcome are self-imposed. It is interesting to note that Feynman always assumed that his IQ was high. It never occurred to him to think otherwise. In short, he acted in a manner consistent to how he perceived himself.

While it is not healthy to deny realities that exist neither is it healthy to be held back by realities that do not. If you live in denial of the influence you have as a leader you rob yourself and others the gift of your leadership.

The most hurtful limitations to overcome are cast upon us. While overcoming self-imposed limitations is certainly a challenge; overcoming ones cast on us by others can be painful.

John Maxwell makes an interesting observation in his book The 360º Degree Leader. He states, “Some leaders are so insecure that when they see a potential all-star, they try to push that person down because they worry that his or her high performance will make them look bad.” Regardless of how others see you or the limitations they may try to place upon you, refuse to be intimidated by their actions.

What limitations from others are you dealing with? Perhaps it was a teacher who said you couldn’t learn, or a boss who said you would never get that new account. Your success as a leader is not linked to what others think about you but in what you believe about yourself.

The healthiest attitude toward limitations is to overcome them. Most would agree that winning a gold medal in the Olympics is the crowing achievement for an Olympian. So when track star Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics it was a defining moment in her career.

In winning those three gold medals Rudolph had to overcome great adversity. At the age of four she was stricken with scarlet fever. She lost use of her left leg and had to learn to walk again at the age of seven. To overcome these odds and to one day win three gold medals is testament to what can happen when we choose to overcome our limitations.

Do you want your leadership to be defined by self-imposed limitations or ones cast upon you by others? As you embrace your challenges and tune out the critics, you can embark on a leadership journey not characterized by limitations but by your potential.

What limitations will you overcome?

Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina and is currently the director of university relations at Charleston Southern University. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association; having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing. Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at

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