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Be the very best person you can be, within the reality of your limitations

Our limitations, whether in our height or our intelligence, are real. Accepting them is hard, but a necessary part of achieving as much as you can.

Broadcast 2 October 2022. Posted 6 October 2022.

Last Sunday I gave my 70th “Thought for the Week” on BBC Radio Manchester.

I tackled quite a sensitive subject. That is accepting the reality that other people are more intelligent that we are. It can be hard for us to accept about ourselves, and even harder to accept about our children.

The key point that I wanted to share is that each of us needs to accept the reality of our limitations, but then seek to be the very best person we can be, and to achieve as much as we possibly can, within those limitations.

Several decades ago I used to listen to the wonderful voice of Garrison Keillor on BBC Radio 4 reading from his novel "Lake Wobegon Days", where every week he would remind us that in Lake Wobegon "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Of course it is a mathematical inevitability that all of the children in a town cannot be above the average of that town!

Thought for the week

Hear my "Thought"

Since the pandemic started, I have prerecorded the "Thought for the Week" and sent it to the BBC in advance.

Although BBC Radio Manchester has now reopened to visiting contributors, their new format of transmitting the "Thought for the Week" of just after 06:00 and again just after 08:00 requires it to be prerecorded. However as my schedule had me in Manchester, I took the opportunity for my first post-pandemic visit to the studios to meet the new programme presenter Asma Younus in person.

You can hear my recording below.

Read my "Thought"

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average man in England is 175.3 cm tall. I am only 171 cm. That makes me noticeably below average height.

Very few people get upset if you tell them they are below average height. After all, it’s hard to argue with a tape measure! Also, we have no control over our height. It’s determined by our genes, and the quality of our diets when we were young.

Your intelligence is measured by IQ tests. The median IQ is 100. That means that half of the population has an IQ above 100, and half below 100. Try asking people at random if their IQ is below average or above average.

If more than a tiny handful say they are below average, I will be gob-smacked. Accepting that your intelligence is below average is really hard to do. Even though you have no more control over your intelligence than control over your height.

Accepting your limitations is hard.

At the age of 19, I realised I wasn’t intelligent enough to be a Nobel Prize winning physicist. It broke my heart. Recovery only came six years later when I realised that I was intelligent enough to be a great accountant, and that I enjoyed it.

Accepting your limitations is very unfashionable. You’re supposed to over come them. But limitations are real.

I believe that to be happy, you need to accept your limitations. And then set out to be the very best you can be, within the reality of those limitations.


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