Knowing Your Limitations Can Be Financially Beneficial

Do you believe that each of us can really do just about anything, if truly put our mind, energy, heart, and soul into it?

I don’t.

At one point in time I might have, but as I get older, I realize that we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Which isn’t exactly a revelation, but the degree to which we can or can’t do certain things is probably more than meets the eye.  And the absolutes, particularly in terms of our ceiling with certain things. 

Admittedly, I’m generally a huge fan of how being persistent can lead to success.  There is much untapped potential that we probably have on a vast array of different things.

However,  there are probably other things in which we simply have little chance to succeed. Maybe the trick is finding out what we can succeed doing, what we really have a chance in.  Then, make a reasonably quick, calculated decision to invest our time and money where it can make an impact and help us achieve our bigger goals. 

Anyway, this topic is one I’m writing about after reading a post by Evan at My Journey to Millions about knowing when it’s time to give up on a dream.  Basically, the premise as I took it was that at some point during adulthood, we should grow up and accept that endless pursuit of pie-in-the-sky dreams just might be dumb.  If we have others depending on us, it could even be selfish!

I can’t really disagree with the premise, honestly.  While not everyone will agree, I think that there are times when some people just don’t have what it takes to succeed in certain things.  No matter how hard they try, they just won’t make it.

My comment there, which I’ll summarize here, was an example of someone I knew who should have given up his dream.  There was a guy from college who left school well before graduating, dropping out with a sub-2.0 (on a 4.0 scale) GPA.   He just didn’t strike me as a serious student, and didn’t demonstrate a grasp of priorities or how important his college record would be for his future endeavors.

Yet, a few years later, I ran into him at a car repair place.  He was actually talking about how he was taking college classes again – albeit on a part-time basis of 1 or 2 classes per semester.  At that pace, he would have YEARS of classes ahead of him.  The crazy thing is that he was telling me how he wanted to get into medical school.

As I listened to him tell me this as he was in his car mechanic uniform with greasy hands, I couldn’t get past the reality that he had a GPA in the “ones” before dropping out.  That he was the type of person who would be one of the last you would expect to go to graduate school, never mind medical school!  Frankly, he didn’t even seem like someone serious enough to complete a college degree, period.

You absolutely knew that he had zero chance to reach this grand goal of his.  It was never going to happen, because he was not capable of doing that.  I don’t care if he put his heart and soul into it and studies as if the fate of the world depended on it, and the whole world was cheering him on.  His ability was limited.  He should have given up on the dream long ago, knowing that he did not have what it took to succeed, since he was sure to be a failure in that specific instance.

That’s not to say he couldn’t be very successful in other endeavors, or even other aspects of life.  But his life dream is one that he should have realized was not attainable due to his not being good enough.

But wait? Is that mean to say he wasn’t good enough? Is it wrong to limit ourselves, perhaps selling ourselves short?

I say no.  I think it’s good to realize that we are not capable of doing anything we want to.  Yes, there are some things that we could put everything into, but won’t succeed.  Others just might succeed much more, because they do have what it takes to get that particular dream.

An example: I would have loved to be a professional baseball player when I was younger.  I was obsessed with baseball.  However, I got cut in tryouts my junior year of high school.  I could hit, had very good fundamentals, and knew the game exceptionally well.  But I was of purely average athletic  ability, and had very modest potential at that level. Thus, it was clear that the party was over .  Obviously, no matter how much I put into it,  the dream would never materialize because I wasn’t good enough.

I’m okay with it :) But the thing is, sometimes physical limitations are easy to spot.  It’s clear I couldn’t with a slam dunk contest in basketball, given that I’m 6’0′ tall but could never dunk a basketball.  And that I’m now 40+ anyway, it’s never going to happen.  However, mental or talent limitations are harder to grasp because they aren’t as visible.  Thus, it’s easy to dismiss them as being non-existent.

There’s a line in an old Kenny Rogers song, that goes like this:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em,

Know when to fold ’em,

Know when to walk away,

Know when to run

Perhaps it’s a matter of being able to differentiate the situations where persistency can lead to great things,  and conversely where persistency might lead to nowhere. 

What it comes down to is that realism is a good habit to get into, and maybe a profitable one.  Not only can we recognize dead end situations, but we can steer our time and energy toward situations that are better investments! I’m just thinking that sometimes calculated realism can trump unwavering optimism, and yield more profitable results.  That’s where realism can actually be more exciting!

My Questions for You

Have you ever found that giving up on something was actually a winning decision?

Do you agree with the notion that while we do have a lot of untapped potential in a lot of areas, there are some where we simply have limitations?

Do you find realism to be an important part of sound financial decision making?


  1. says

    Yup, it’s really true, sometimes you have to know that giving up doesn’t necessarily mean that you lost. However, in some cases, one should not hurry: after I decided to quit my 9 to 5 job to start a blog and earn my living out of it, things didn’t go too well at first and after the first three months I only had $300 of income generated. My parents and close friends started to tell me back then that I should give up and do something that makes me real money, but I was confident that things were going to get better and they did.

    However, on other occasions I did have to take the loss and move on: many of my blogs that I was really excited about and put a ton of time into building simply didn’t pick up, so I had to accept their failure (and I’m not even going to my time when I was naive enough to believe that I will become an NBA player, so I was spending several hours PER DAY to play ball lol).

    • Squirrelers says

      Good points as usual! Looks like you’re looking at things in terms of sunk costs, and making the best decision looking forward

    • Squirrelers says

      Kurt – that is, unless I get the Nobel Prize first:) Of course, I might decline due to conflicts with my Oscar as well as basketball MVP award ceremonies…..

  2. says

    I think he should try taking some classes. Who knows, maybe he is more mature now and can put in some hours to study. You never know. If he can’t handle undergrad classes, then it’s time to give up on medical school.

    • Squirrelers says

      Joe – I should clarify, when I ran into him it was years ago. Even then, it was a few years after he would have graduated college I believe (if he had originally stayed). Maybe now as a 40 yr old the guy could be mature enough one would hope LOL.

  3. says

    Squirrelers wrote, “Have you ever found that giving up on something was actually a winning decision?”

    There are times in engineering that you need to realize that the design you’ve been working on won’t work. You may keep a few of your design decisions, but the overall design may just be bad, and a new design has to be created. This is somewhat common, and often the new design is so much better than the old, that the new becomes the default solution for similar problems.

    Same goes for finances and investing. I used to think I could time the market and trade individual stocks. My thinking was reinforced during the late 90s. The 2000-2003 recession came along and taught me to forget that notion. I’m glad it did. I now invest in a moderate asset allocation of stocks and bonds using low-cost index mutual funds and ETFs. I was invested that way through the Great Recession and it worked out well.

  4. says

    I do agree with you that giving up wouldn’t always lead to failure, sometimes knowing that you’re going to come up short can lead you to another opportunity. And maybe that opportunity can give you a chance to be successful, right?

    Nobody is perfect and maybe taking a new path when you think you’re going to fail is a smart thing do.

  5. says

    You definitely have to be realistic. There’s no way around this.

    When I go to the mall, I leave my wallet in the car. When I go out, I take cash.

    You have to work with your weaknesses.

    • Squirrelers says

      Realism involves assessing positive and negative, though some people don’t want to hear the negatives. I know what you mean, how being realistic could be perceived as being pessimistic. Of course perception isn’t always reality!

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