Limits

Author: Aaron Johnson, Ph.D., CFA

Position: Graduate Business Programs Manager

In the movie Facing the Giants, a football coach challenges a leader on his team to do the "death crawl," where the young man crawls on his hands and knees along a football field, without touching his knees to the ground, while another player rides on his back.   

The other players are lucky to do this for 10 yards, and he is challenged to do this, with a single goal: give your best.  The player immediately starts talking about numbers.  You mean 30 yards?  No, the coach is quick to reply.  Do your best.  Go until you have nothing left. 

This image comes back to mind when I work with my students at this point in the semester.  I want them to continue giving their best effort, even though they face many burdens: work commitments, family expectations, language challenges, time constraints, social challenges of young adulthood, and more.  They struggle to understand my expectations of them, asking similar questions as the football player.  How far can I be expected to go?  What do I need to pass?  How much is enough?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a respected scientist, wrote on social media last year, "When students cheat on exams it's because our school system values grades more than students value learning."  My best economic modeling would likely point to the same conclusion.  If students feel that classroom content is only useful for the final, then I wouldn't expect anything different. 

I grew up feeling rather average to below average in school.  My grades weren't good, and I always felt on the periphery both inside and outside the classroom.  I didn't read.  I watched a lot of television.  I liked to play video games.  I didn't feel like college was the best place for me, so I dropped out after my first year.  I was never an athlete, so I didn't pay adequate attention to health, and became obese.  I wasn't born rich, so I accepted the idea of being in debt.  Following a series of ostensibly innocuous events in 1998, I started asking myself the right questions for the first time in my life.  What are my limits?  What could I do if I tried?  Where would I find the wall that I just couldn't break through?  I learned in subsequent years that I was smart enough to get college degrees, I was motivated enough to lose 89 pounds, and became prudent enough to get myself out of debt. 

What I want from my students in the last few weeks of the semester is for each of them to ask themselves the same questions.  I can guide them through course material, but there is so much more that students can  glean from a purposeful effort when working with a professor.  There are so many missed opportunities from youth, inexperience, and apathy. 

Doing your best in a task doesn't usually require you to give up other aspects of your life; instead it typically enhances them.  By studying a certain concept, and relating it to others, you are training your brain to learn what needs to be learned, and to make connections that others may miss.  You build a competitive advantage in the workforce, in business, and in life.  You wake up some day years in the future and realize that you have built a broad choice set for yourself, and a wealth of intangible assets that you can draw on in many different situations.  That's worth working for. 

How far did the player death crawl?  Did he make it 10 yards?  30 yards?  Without looking, he gave his best, challenging himself to do what he didn't realize he could.  He took off the blindfold to find himself in the end zone, 100 yards from where he started.  I woke up this morning and ran through the streets of Prague, surrounded by people half a world away from where I started.  The opportunities that I have been given were born largely from effort.  Some would say I made my own luck.  I don't know where I will be in five years, but I still consider myself to be a student of the world, traveling through its vast classroom.  I plan to continue studying.  I have potential professors surrounding me every day of my life, and I make the choice as to whether or not I listen and learn.  In this way, I am also surrounded by potential students, and I plan to continue professing as I learn. 

You can accomplish more than you realize.  You have unused strength in you.  You have not fully tested your limits in most dimensions.  A wealth of opportunities lies in front of you, awaiting your exploration.  Go forward this week and become better than the person you were yesterday.  Close your eyes to the limitations and goal lines that you and others have set, and try.  Really try.  Do your best, and when you open up your eyes and squint into the light, you just might be amazed at where you are. 

The Death Crawl on Facing the Giants can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqGKxv2MHS0

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