” Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds ”
– Napoleon Hill
Having started my interest in the topic of personal development in my early teens, I had come across this piece of brilliant wisdom at quite a young age. However, it wasn’t until my last year of high school did I began to fully understand and grasp its truth.
I had done my last two years of high school at a British International school in Hong Kong where as a part of our A-levels (British education curriculum), we were given the option to go on a trip for each of our classes which we were to be base our course work (research project) on. For my biology class, the trip consisted of traveling to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, Malaysia where my fellow peers and I were to conduct our biology research as we hike our way to the top of a mountain. At 4,095.2 m or 13,435.7ft high, this particular mountain, appropriately named ‘Mount Kinabalu’, happens to be the highest mountain in South East Asia.
As silly as it sounds, though I was definitely not in the best shape or fitness level at the time, I confidently signed up for the trip thinking that I had enough time to prepare myself for what lies ahead. Plus, at that point, I was already hiking and camping every couple of weeks at Lan Tau, an island located just outside of Hong Kong Island, for a school extra-curricular program and had thought that with just a bit more exercise, I would be more than ready for the trip. Long story short, thanks to general laziness, my talent for procrastination and the fact that we were bombarded with other school related demands, I ended up spending zero time at the gym to prepare myself for the trip. Days prior to departure, I became extremely anxious about the trip and was close to waving the white flag and backing out. Fortunately for me, I did no such thing.
The hike, as anticipated, was rough. In addition to my lack of physical fitness, I had overpacked my rug-sack and it took a number on my already bad back and weak knees. For some reason, it didn’t even occurred to me prior to the hike that these physical issues of mine would be a problem. Perhaps it was sheer delusion but I had honestly thought that the knee issue would be easily solved by wearing knee bands. Instead, it was so uncomfortable that it slowed me down even more.
Needless to say, I struggled throughout the hike. With each forward step I took, an inner voice would scream “What the hell did you get yourself into?! Let’s just give up and go back to the base camp!”. Whenever that thought creeps in though, its as if another voice would immediately argue “Don’t you dare give up! What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. You can do this, keep going!”. Yup, there was definitely an all out internal war going on in my head for most of the hike while for the rest of the time, I was just too physically and emotionally tired to even bother to listen to these voices.
I had somehow managed to make my way about 300 m from the mountain’s peak when I felt the elevation got the best of me. Accompanied by one of our group’s hiking guide, I decided to take a short break. When I went to sit down, a wonderful older man was already sitting nearby. He had made his way to the top of the mountain already and made a quick stop to enjoy more of the gorgeous aerial view of Borneo before making his way back to the base camp. As it turned out, he was the head of the Biology department at University of Manchester in England. We got to talking about my research project and I shared with him how physically AND mentally challenging I had found the hike to be. It was then that he smiled and said “Don’t give up, when you get up there, you’ll see that it will be one of the biggest and most memorable achievements of your life”. I smiled back, realizing that he was absolutely right. So I thanked him, got up, took a deep breath and made my way to the mountain’s peak where my classmates were already in excitement and in awe of the sheer magnitude of the breathtaking view before us.
Looking back, despite having had quite a few achievements since then, this particular achievement remains as one of my most priceless experiences to date. It taught me that I am much more capable than I give myself credit for and that my limitations are only those that I set upon myself. Though it’s certainly been a while since my high school days, whenever I feel that a challenge is far too difficult or impossible to handle, the lessons I gathered from this experience never fails to remind me that impossible is indeed nothing. After all, every single thing that is now perceived as ordinary or normal was once thought as impossible. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done“.
What I know for sure is that I’m not alone in this. I’m sure you too have had experiences where you blew your own mind. These were the moments where you felt the fear and do whatever it is that you were afraid of anyways. Remember that nothing great comes out of comfort zones and we must keep pushing ourselves and break through our fears and doubts. Because whenever we opt to do so, we make the choice to show ourselves that we are far stronger, smarter, braver than we give ourselves credit for. We all have greatness within us, let’s continue to shatter the limitations we’ve set upon ourselves and let that greatness shine brightly through.