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Soulful Sundays: The Plateau

"If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."

-Bruce Lee

Last week, I wrote about the importance of becoming an apprentice when tackling new pursuits. But what about those areas of life where we have seemed to have hit the proverbial wall? No matter how much we work, we seem to remain in exactly the same place. Some call these plateaus. We can call them opportunities.

There is a tale from around the time of the settling of the western United States of a man who bought a mining claim. At first he extracted gold easily from a vein on the surface of the mine but this soon dried up. For the next few years he continued to dig and haul away rocks in hopes of finding the vein once more. Defeated, he eventually sold off his claim and moved on.

The man who bought his land dug a mere three feet and discovered the vein again. If only the first prospector had known how close he really was to success, he would not have quit. This story is an metaphor for times when we feel that we have reached a plateau. The truth is that we can't ever predict the breakthrough moments. We must remind ourselves that if a thing is worth doing, then it is worth doing with patience and perseverance.

Plateaus offer us a great opportunity for growth. They teach us about ourselves and the thing we are pursuing. Sometimes the best solution when our progress stymies is to force ourselves to make new mistakes--to look at the problem with the eyes of a beginner. For this, we must put ourselves in scenarios that require different thinking. The more counterintuitive, the better.

For instance: how can we make more money by spending more money; how can we overcome an enemy by being nice to them; how can we be more persuasive by talking less; how can we be more productive by resting more; how can we yield and still overcome; how can we be great by remaining small? All of these questions force us to pause and reconsider the landscape. Perhaps we aren't seeing a plateau after all. Perhaps we are seeing the cliff that we need to jump off in order to fly.

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