The Paradox of Limitation & Possibility

Which brings more satisfaction and success, limitation or possibility? If a musician can play every scale, note, lick, and chord progression does it make it easier to express what they want to say in a way that touches the listener? If a visual artist has every colour available and any surface on which to paint, are they able to create faster and more poignant works? Pause for just a moment and check in with your first thoughts on these questions. Then read on.

Most of my life, I had been bewitched by the idea of possibilities. So much so that I have always tried to make decisions that closed off as few options as possible. I wanted to be able to change my mind whenever the spirit moved me. The problem was that by leaving all my options open I couldn’t actually make a choice. The multitude of possibilities was keeping me in a terrified paralysis, particularly in my arts world. The possibility of making the wrong choice kept me from making any choice at all. So, there I sat, wondering why can’t I get things done? Why can’t I move forward into all these possibilities?

Having a broader palette of skills or colours absolutely expands the range of artistic possibilities, just as having more resources (money, relationships, supports) creates more possibilities in life. However, more can make choosing which material or resource more stressful and complicated. With so many options, what is the “right” choice? What if I choose wrongly? Where will I end up? We become paralyzed by the options and end up going nowhere. Having the possibility of lots of possibilities does not make choosing easier. Like the “all you can eat buffet,” there is such a thing as too much choice. Suddenly we are in our heads and in overwhelm. So, what is the answer to the first question at the top of this post? The answer is to ask better questions. What is possibility? Does it lead us in a better direction? And if not, what is the difficulty?

The difficulty comes from mistaking possibility for opportunity.Several years ago, I began to deeply consider that limitation may be the key to creating an awareness of opportunity, not otherwise apparent. Spending time working within imposed limitations taught me the power of limited resources. Stated another way, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Constrained choices resulted in creative opportunities leaping out as if suddenly illuminated by a follow-spot on a stage. What would have remained extras, mere background players, became essential to what I desired to express. Working within limitation removes the luxury of overindulgence at every juncture. Within limitation, a choice is and must be made, for creation happens with what is available, right now, in this moment – not with what could, should, or would be. I have to work through this momentary difficulty and find a solution. It cannot be put it off for later when the right colour is at hand or the ability to improvise over a Bb7(b9) chord is perfected. I have to move through this moment or I cannot move on to the next. Choice is an action and action creates movement. Impulses become more focused and expressive themes more powerful simply by embracing the specific opportunities that limitation presents. This powerful propeller, thrusts the work forward into places heretofore unseen, or perhaps even feared. In choosing, inert options are suddenly re-animated by that lightning strike of limitation, scorching a singular path through the woods of unlimited possibility that we can simply now follow. Once on that path and moving, wherever it leads, we then realize that we can choose again and continue to choose as we move. Nothing is lost: you can always make a choice to change direction or even go back. The important thing is to keep choosing, testing, trying, creating, even destroying sometimes, if necessary. If you just keep moving, limitation may lead you where you desire to be.

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