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Unleashing Your Full Potential: The Importance of Pushing Limits in Your Professional Journey

Let's begin with the moving story of Louzanne Coetzee - a record-breaking Paralympic from the Free State. Having been born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis - Louzanne was visually impaired since birth. Upon resuming her studies at the University of the Free State, Louzanne attended an evening meeting for first years in her residence held after a long day of induction activities that had all the first years - including herself - very exhausted. In this particular meeting, the residence committee members were encouraging (read that as "demanding" #IYKYK) the first-year students to volunteer to run in the First-Year athletic competition. At the end of the meeting they needed one more person to volunteer, and no one was keen to put their hand up when Louzanne decided to volunteer as a runner "just to get the meeting over with"; she says. Until then, Louzanne had never considered herself an athlete. Louzanne did so well in this race that one of the coaches who had seen her there suggested she consider trying out for long-distance races. Even though Louzanne had never thought of running professionally before that, she decided to try it out and, as a result, fell in love with running.


Listening to Louzanne's inspirational speech as she accepted her award for the UFS Alumni of The Year Award a few years ago, I became quite reflective (as I tend to be) and pondered for a while after the event on some the lessons that I took away which I believe are lessons that can apply in any career. These lessons are about the power of pushing our limits as we navigate our professional journeys and build impactful career.


Be conscious of how you define yourself


In my experience of mentoring students, entrepreneurs and professionals, I often marvel at how quick people can be to define themselves in the most limiting of terms. "I'm just not a public speaker", "I'm an introvert, I just don't do well around a lot of people", "I'm just not a sporty person"... and the list goes on.  However, in most cases, these statements are made not because we have done the deep work of self-discovery and self-awareness (which could justify coming to some sort of definitive conclusion of who we are). Instead, we say these type of statements as an excuse to tap out of situations that challenge our limits and therefore make us uncomfortable. Unfortunately, for some of us, the limiting identities we take on could even be endorsed by parents, teachers and other people around us who are blinded by the experience they have of us and are unaware that all of us carry the potential to surprise even ourselves in who we can be.


I believe that in order to reach our potential in our careers, we need to be very conscious of how we define ourselves, and test the legitimacy of the conclusions we have made about ourselves before we give up on what we can achieve. To do this we have to ask ourselves, "what do I believe about myself?"; "what informs this belief?", "what do I have to do to challenge this belief/identify that I may have taken on prematurely".


Be curious about gaining more knowledge, experience or skills


There's a saying that "you don't know what you don't know". How I apply this in the context of my career is that I don't try to preempt the outcome I'll get by gaining additional knowledge (e.g. an MBA), gaining skills or getting certain exposure/experience will have on my career. For example, I wouldn't have known that signing up to do Systems and Process Assurance (IT Audit) in my articles - in addition to financial audits - would spark a love for the digital world - even though my main qualification is that of a Chartered Accountant.


What we can be sure of is that a commitment to life-long learning through additional education/certifications, gaining skills and experience and giving ourselves as much exposure as we can will give us a transformative perspective of life and the world we live in, and help us discover what we have to offer the world and to break our own limits. Knowledge is indeed power.


MRI Scanner Designed For Kids to improve their user experience

A fascinating example of how curiosity pays-off is of an industrial designer with 20 years of experience in designing (boring and clinical) healthcare products reimagined the MRI scanner for kids after immersing himself in design-thinking methodology at the Stanford design school. In my imagination, I see a version of him that lacks this curiousity telling his colleagues - supported by the mighty weight of his experience - "I'm just not a creative person. I'm not the right person to work on this project"; when all he needed was a pinch of new knowledge to unleash his creativity.


Now let's turn the attention to ourselves and ask, "What is it that I need to challenge the premature assumptions and conclusions I've made about myself?";"In what ways can I have more curiosity to learn, what skills can I have the curiousity to gain, what experience can I have the curiosity to immerse myself in?".


Push Beyond your Comfort Zone

"What if I fail?". "Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" - Erin Hanson

As the saying goes, "life begins at the end of your comfort zone." This saying is as self-explanatory as it is a cliché. The biggest challenge we will face as we pursue pushing the boundaries of our limitations in our careers (and in our lives in general) is that comfort can be an enemy. The comfort of a salary can be an enemy to someone who's potential would better be used in starting a business, the comfort of knowing can be an enemy to someone who needs to pivot in their career path, the comfort of no stress can be an enemy to someone who needs to take on more responsibility at work - "I just work better alone, I don't want to manage people".




What a shame it would have been, had Luzanne Coetzee not pushed the limits of her self-identity, hadn't put in the work to get extra skills by training and hadn't push the boundaries of her comfort zone to unleash within herself a paralympic we can all celebrate and be proud of.


Have a great week.

Likeleli M






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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a passionate leader, accomplished professional and a mentor. I believe that nation-building depends on how well we build people. Therefore, my mission is to contribute to the personal, professional and leadership development of people to empower them to reach their highest potential.

I do this through a mentorship program that I founded and through this blog where I share principles I've applied and insights I've gained in the past twelve years of my career and leadership journey.

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