Embracing Limitations

The ability to ‘embrace limitations’ is a useful skill for leaders to possess.

Being able to view restrictions with a positive mindset  is an absolute must in the ever changing, complex corporate world. But sometimes, we are thrown a multitude of curve balls all at the same time, which can present limitations that can be challenging to deal with, let alone ’embrace’.

This week, I had a somewhat simple and personal experience which nevertheless reminded me of the value of embracing limitations.  What began as the “week from hell” evolved into a meaningful opportunity, for which I am now extremely grateful for.

On Monday not one, but two of my children became sick at the same time.  With my husband away, a multitude of coaching sessions booked, a trip to Wellington planned and two leadership workshops to prepare for, it was not the best of timing to say the least.  To cap it all off, IT issues caused major havoc.

In the first instance, rather than working with “what is”, I let the situation get the better of me.  When I unleashed my unfortunate disposition upon the innocent check out girl at the supermarket after a polite “how are you today?”, I realised I needed to reevaluate my attitude.  The poor girl looked like a stunned mullet!

The reality is, life doesn’t always go as we want it to.  Sometimes it is plain sailing, and at other times we have to navigate stormy waters.

Fortuitously, the following TED talk came across my desk on Monday afternoon.

Artist Phil Hansen speaks of when he developed an unruly “shake” in his hand while at art school. Hansen was devastated, until a neurologist suggested he try embracing this limitation.  Phil ’embraced the shake’ and went on to become a successful artist, and now teaches others how to embrace their limitations in order to achieve great (and new) heights.

As the old adage goes, it’s not what happens that counts, it’s how you respond.  Or, as my Dad, an avid yachtie says, “you cannot direct the wind, but you can always trim the sail.”

So here’s what I did.  I decided to first accept and then allow myself permission to know that this week, I was not going to be the productive super machine I usually aim to be at work.  It seems so simple in retrospect, but merely accepting the situation for what it was, helped immensely.  I said to my judgemental, task master self – “just relax sister, give in to the situation!”

Next, I allowed myself to embrace it.  I accepted I wouldn’t get much work done, and thought about what possibilities might arise from the situation instead.  Suddenly, I realised if you remove one thing, you make room for another. 

As soon as I removed unrealistic outcomes from my repertoire, an array of opportunities became clear – spending time with my son and daughter, playing board games, doing nothing on the couch and even leaning in to my role as a nurturing mother caring for her sick children. One of the surprising and unexpected benefits of this was how I connected with some of my fondest memories of my own mother looking after me when I too had the chicken pox.

Next I accepted the incredibly generous offer by my husband to share the load (rather than be the martyr).  Lesson: accept offers from others when you are experiencing challenges.  Teamwork makes the load lighter.

Finally, after all of this, I was even able to find a space of gratitude.  Embracing limitations not only enables compassion to ourselves and others, it also can present a multitude of unexpected opportunities.

What examples of embracing limitations have you experienced, and how have they helped you to become a better leader?


  1. Embrace the Shake: Mindful Acceptance Inspires Creativity | NLP THIRTEEN on June 6, 2013 at 7:54 am

    […] Embracing Limitations (theleadersdigest.me) […]

  2. Altris (@altris) on June 3, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Something we working mothers can all relate to and a good reminder to sometimes let things go. Enlightening and a good message to reflect on once again. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • The Leader's Digest on June 6, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks for the feedback – I’m glad it resonated with you. Cheers, Suzi.

  3. John & Candice REINECKE on June 2, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Hi Suzie Lovely BLog that really resonated with me! I am not always comfortable replying online to Blog posts ( and I am sure there are plenty more people like me ), but I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy getting your BLogs and I love what you  write about. Its always honest, right from the heart & great food for thought. So remember, just because people dont respond publically, does not mean you are not ‘touching a cord’ and doing great stuff! Well done! Regards Candice  

    >________________________________ >From: “The Leader’s Digest – by Suzi McAlpine, Executive Coach” >To: [email protected] >Sent: Saturday, 1 June 2013 11:40 AM >Subject: [New post] Embracing Limitations > >The Leader’s Digest posted: “The ability to ‘embrace limitations’ is a useful skill for leaders to possess. Being able to view restrictions with a positive mindset  is an absolute must in the ever changing, complex corporate world. But sometimes, we are thrown a multitude of curve” >

    • The Leader's Digest on June 6, 2013 at 1:49 am

      Many thanks, Candice, for taking the time to write in and I am so glad that the post resonated with you and that you are enjoying my blog. Apart from the odd ‘vulnerability hangover’ after I post them, I am loving writing them! Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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