Know Thy Limits–Know Thy Self

I’ve seen too many people say yes to something only to find out six months later that they’re not capable of producing the project. Or perhaps even worse, they weren’t really called to it.

You have to expand before you invent. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to build a rocket to the moon, you have to start with building spontaneous combustion engines. And before that, you have to play with gun powder, and get a little burnt.

Highly-driven people—type-As—have a hard time saying no. This yes-only nature leads to both success and failure. It can help you produce lots of work, but the work won’t be quality, which means only one thing: you will regret saying yes later.

Just a year ago, I was the type that would say yes to just about any project. I’ve learned through pure exhaustion and frustration that saying no is just as important as saying yes. If you’re not absolutely passionate about something, you probably shouldn’t do it. But there’s another piece to this picture.

There is a difference between moving beyond your capacity, and going outside of it. Don’t choose projects that go beyond your skill set entirely. Instead, expand your current skill set. You have to start with something familiar—that’s how a greater capacity for greatness is formed.

Moving from the familiar to the unknown is part of being a leader, a visionary and an innovator. But leaders, visionaries and innovators always start with something familiar.

Where and how are you expanding your skill set? How are you moving from what’s familiar to the unknown?

For these ideas, I owe credit to The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. (The links to these two books are affiliate links.)

2 Responses to “Know Thy Limits–Know Thy Self”

  1. Michele November 22, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Good thoughts, John.
    My background is electrical engineering, I have good general computer skills, and recently started a blog (on A few people have asked me about designing websites.

    I am usually quick to respond that true web design is not in my current skill set, and would not take on a project like that without a clear understanding of necessary OJT.

    I am trying to expand my skills by learning more about web design and coding, while keeping my eyes open for what God would have me to do with the knowledge he has already given me.

    God bless!

    • John D. Barry November 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Does anyone else want to share an example?


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