05 January 2014

In two TED talks that I watched ([1] and [2] below) the narrators had experienced some kind of a personal handicap. One author was a blind girl and she was talking how she was taking advantage of being blind by imagining everybody she meets as the most beautiful person the world and the other author was this guy who is paralized and can’t move but with the help of robots he is able to do things most of healthy people can’t or don’t normally do. In both cases, once the handicap was obvious, the author used it as a direction for improvement, and achieved abilities beyond what what normal people can do. The authors’ limitations weren’t boundaries, but rather trampolines and launch pads, increasing their freedom. Learning about these people made me think about the limitations and that we all have but don’t notice all the time.

First, there are limitations that are common to all or most human beings. None of us can run 100m in less than 9 seconds. Neither can we fly on our own, nor can we think about more than 20, 30 or a 100 things at the same time. Most of us can’t listen to two different people at the same time, or write with both our hands simultaneously, or swim without floatation for 5 days without a break.

Next, there are also other limitations which only a certain group of people was able to overcome. For example being able to solve quadratic equations, being able to run a marathon, being able to deliver a good speech or being able to eat 1kg of ice cream. These are abilities that we attain as we go through life, or we happen to have a talent for them.

Additionally, then there limitations which affect only a very small group of people such as being blind or paralyzed like the TED talk authors. We normally refer to such rare limitations as handicaps, to the more common ones as skills, and to the universal ones… well we usually don’t even think of them that often.

But there is nothing inherently different about all the three types of limitations, besides the proportion of humans who are unable to do them currently. At their core all of these limitations are just something a given person can’t do. True, some of them are more tragic and emotional, and the lack or presence of some limitations affects our society status, emotions and thoughts. But besides the proportion of affected people, these are all aspects that we attach to the limitations. They are more part of how we see the limitations and not something fundamental about the limitation.

And thise proportions are always changing with time. Sometimes a new invention will help handicapped people feel less isolated, sometimes it would help more people learn more skills, and sometimes it would enable all humans to do something new. Inventions like the airplane, the computer and the printing press have enabled all humanity to overcome certain limitations to the point where a having such limitation feels like a handicap.

And handicaps they all are. I think it helps to refer to all kinds of limitations as handicaps, even the very broad ones. So in the rest of this essay when I say handicaps I will refer to all kinds of limitation. Can’t fly - handicap. Can’t draw like Picasso - handicap, can’t walk - handicap. Naming all kinds of limitations as handicaps makes some handicaps stand out. It makes the ones that are actually important and feasible to overcome really apparent. I want to reduce my handicaps because I think it leads to a more fun life. Without calling handicaps out I probably wouldn’t work to overcome them and these handicaps may become a defining characteristic of who I am.

As a first step, I decided to define some of my handicaps so that I know what I am improving on. I made a text note and started writing down handicaps whenever i could think of any. I didnt focus only on things that i am bad at but others are good, i also included things that are universal human limitations. And of course the list doesn’t capture many limitations of mine.

So here is a list of handicaps, along with possible strategies to overcome them

Handicap 1. I am limited by not remembering stuff I don’t write down. Example would be a conversation in a meeting in which i wouldnt take notes- by the end of it it would be hard for me to recall much but the most important things. And sometimes i would forget stuff that i commited to doing.

Possible solution is to take copious notes.

Handicap 2. When I don’t have much assigned stuff to do I procrastinate.

Possible solution could be to schedule myself tasks to do for most of the time but also budget some downtime during which I can be procrastinating and resting without feeling guilty about it.

Handicap 3. I dont have a long term personal mission. Yeah, really, what do I want to do with my life?

This is a hard question and this requires both a lot of thinking and experience. I’m hoping that writing essays like this one will actually help me think more clearly, and make it easier for me - but I dont have a clear path to solving this yet.

Handicap 4. Thinking and dreaming about a potential reward or status can distract me from actually doing my best. And as a result I don’t achieve the reward or the status. Ironic.

Possible solution is to catch myself daydreaming and remember that it doesnt help me progress. Daydreaming is OK if I am resting and relaxing, but needs to be stopped if I am actually trying to achieve something that requires mental focus.

Handicap 5. If I dont see a clear path to my goal, I meander and procrastinate.

Possible solutions are to break down problems into smaller parts, solve blockers early on and ask for help when possible.

Hancicap 6. I postpone things I want to do or important decisions about my life until after I have achieved certain awards and status - and thus I can miss the chance to actually do those things/decisions. Things do happen and decisions get made but I am more passive than I’d rather be. I shouldn’t wait for freedom event but start living towards my dreams today.

I can start doing more of the things that I would have done “one day” at the present. I should probably write about this to understand it better. It is related to number 3 - personal mission.

Handicap 7. I sometimes panic or get overwhelmed when multiple things start breaking apart. Too much chaos gets me out of my comfort zone where I can’t make very sober decisions.

Possible solution would be to take a break and find a way out. Think about what could have prevented this and be more systematic next time and don’t allow too many things to break at once. It would still happen from time to time so be more stoic about it - accept that sometimes bad things will happen outside of my control.

[1] Caroline Casey: Looking past limits, TED, http://www.ted.com/talks/caroline_casey_looking_past_limits.html

[2] Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the robots for humanity, TED, http://www.ted.com/talks/henry_evans_and_chad_jenkins_meet_the_robots_for_humanity.html

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