How to get out of your own way and succeed

Illustrations by John P. Weiss

Shaquem Alphonso Griffin is a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. He and his twin brother, Shaquill Griffin (a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks), both played football previously for the University of Central Florida Knights.

In the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Shaquem was initially not invited, despite being a star in Central Florida and the Peach Bowl Defensive MVP against Auburn (thus cementing the Knights’ undefeated season).

The complaints from fans paid off. Shaquem was later invited and impressed scouts by benching 225 pounds twenty times. Then, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, which was the fastest time for a linebacker since 2003.

Based on his impressive performance, the Seattle Seahawks picked him up in the fifth round of the player’s draft. He went on in 2018 to be an invaluable special-teams player.

Unfortunately, in the ensuing preseason, he injured his knee in an exhibition game, yet he still managed to retain a spot on the 53-man roster, thanks to his incredible work ethic and determination.

Shaquem and his twin brother work out together, as detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which notes:

“The men worked out 90 minutes to two hours five days a week this of-season, devoting three days to upper body and two days to lower body. A leg day might have included Mr. Griffin doing deadlifts, pushing a weighted plate across the gym, and tossing a medicine ball against a wall or to his brother and then performing a one-legged squat.”

Shaquem’s four-year signing deal with the Seattle Seahawks is worth $2.8 million with $300,000 guaranteed (according to Wikipedia.com).

Not bad for a fifth-round draft, but astounding when you consider this fact: Shaquem Griffin has only one hand. As the Wall Street Journal article notes:

“Mr. Griffin’s left hand was amputated at age 4, the result of amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect. His father, Terry Griffin, still put him through the same football drills as his twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, and even adapted gym equipment so the boys could work out together.”

Shaquem wears a prosthetic to perform various exercises like bench presses, pull-ups, etc.

Shaquem didn’t let his physical limitation (having only one hand) get in the way of his dreams. Even his father and brother encouraged him to work around his limitation. And now he’s playing in the NFL.

“I’m going to check every box off of the things people say I can’t do.” — Shaquem Griffin

Embrace the shake

Phil Hansen loved to draw in a pointillism style, which requires making thousands of dots to create an image. The obsession with pointillism began in high school but came at a cost. The repetition and gripping of the penciled to permanent nerve damage in his hand.

Hansen’s dream was to go to art school and become an artist, but the nerve damage in his hand resulted in severe shaking. The harder he gripped the pencil, the worse the shaking.

Hansen saw a neurologist, who confirmed the permanent nerve damage. Despite Hansen’s uncertain artistic future, the neurologist offered a counter-intuitive suggestion: “Why don’t you embrace the shake?”

Thus began a period of experimentation. Originally drawn to the fragmentation of pointillism, Hansen started drawing with his shaky hand. He realized that he could adopt larger materials and work on a bigger scale to create art, thus sparing his aching hand.

According to Wikipedia:

“Hansen’s breakthrough piece was a time-lapse video of a two-day project called Influence. He painted thirty pictures on his torso, one over the other, each picture representing an influence in his life. After it was completed, he peeled the layer off and cut a silhouette of his own profile. The uploaded video was streamed over a million times on the Internet, with process and final piece clearly revealed.”

Let go of outcomes

Thanks to the exposure of Hansen’s video, he later was selected to be the official artist for the 51st annual Grammy Awards.

Hansen gave a 2013 Ted talk, where he chronicled his creative journey. He shared that “embracing limitation could actually drive creativity.”

Hansen bought all kinds of art supplies to experiment and create something “completely outside the box.” But he couldn’t come up with anything. He was creatively blank. He realized that he had become paralyzed by all the materials and choices he had.

So, instead of creating something completely outside the box, Hansen decided to get back in the box. He embraced limitations. He challenged himself to create a work of art for less than a dollar, which he accomplished with a stack of free Starbucks cups.

He painted on his chest instead of a canvas. Instead of using a brush, he painted a canvas using only “karate chops.” The result was an amazing picture of Bruce Lee.

Looking at limitations as a source of creativity changed the course of Hansen’s life. He learned to let go of outcomes. He let go of failures and let go of imperfections.

“The ultimate limitation became a liberation.” — Phil Hansen

In the close to Hansen’s Ted talk he states:

“Instead of telling each other to seize the day, maybe, we can remind ourselves every day to seize the limitation.”

Watch Hansen’s Ted talk below:

All the good things in life

The modern world has brought tremendous abundance. Many of us have more choices than ever, and access to endless information. It can leave us overwhelmed, like a kid trying to select from 31 flavors at a Baskin Robbins ice cream store.

One of the reasons that minimalism has become so popular as a life philosophy is that less is often more. By limiting our possessions and choices, we free ourselves to think about other things, and thereby tap our creativity more.

I used to own countless paint boxes (also called pochade boxes) for outdoor painting. I bought commercial paint boxes and made my own.

Some of my past paint boxes

The problem was that every time I planned an outdoor painting trip, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t decide which paint box to take. I had too many choices.

I’d stuff one into a backpack with all my gear. Then I’d dig it out and pack another paint box. Before long, I’d be running late and convince myself to take two paintboxes.

The author Daniel Pink put it this way:

“Do you feel it, too? That relentless pressure to sample all the good things in life? To do all the ‘right’ things? The reality is, you don’t make progress that way. Instead, you’re in danger of spreading your efforts so thin that you make no impact at all.”

I ended up selling my paint boxes, reducing my collection down to two (a small and medium-size one). Further, I adopted a limited palette of the primary colors (plus white) to paint with. No more heavy bag full of endless paint tubes. The result was less decision making, less stress, and more creative freedom.

I further simplified my life by adopting a minimalist philosophy. I downsized my wardrobe, art supplies, and gadgets. All of these limitations took away the distractions and tyranny of choice. The result was peace of mind and greater creativity.

The greatest battles you’ll ever face

In many ways limitations in life, both our own and situational, are not the problem. The problem is self-perceived limitations. Usually brought on by insecurity, self-doubt, or fear.

A former martial arts instructor of mine was fond of saying:

“The greatest battles you’ll ever face are between your own two ears.”

Author and blogger James Clear, in his article “The More We Limit Ourselves, the More Resourceful We Become”, notes the following:

“It can be easy to spend your life complaining about the opportunities that are withheld from us and the resources that we need to make our goals a reality.”

Clear goes on to add:

“But there is an alternative. You can use your constraints to drive creativity. You can embrace your limitations to foster skill development. The problem is rarely the opportunities we have, but how we use them.”

Clear goes on to share examples of people through history who embraced their limitations instead of fighting them. People like Dr. Seuss, who wrote his famous book using only 50 different words. Or Richard Branson, who built 400 businesses despite having dyslexia.

How about you? What perceived limitations are holding you back? Consider how Shaquem Griffin worked around his physical limitation to make it into the NFL. Or how Phil Hansen embraced his shaking hand to create entirely new forms of creative art.

Limitations force us to become more resourceful. They can give us the motivation and strength to succeed in unconventional ways.

“The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.” — Soren Kierkegaard

All we have to do is get out of our own way, abandon self-perceived limitations, work around obstacles, and let limitations unlock our creative potential.

It worked for Shaquem Griffin and Phil Hansen, and it can work for you, too!

(Originally published at JohnPWeiss.com)

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint and write about life. Get on my free newsletter here.

This article first appeared on Medium.