I broke one of my travel rules this week. Yes-I watched the in-flight movie instead of working...I admit it. But, what I learned is that sometimes it pays to break the rules. The movie-Spare Parts-which had come highly recommended by a recent participant in one of my programs in Mexico, was definitely worth the watch! If you haven’t had a chance to see it, please do.
It is based on a true story about a group of undocumented high school kids in Phoenix who decide to enter a robotics competition against the best universities, like MIT. These kids lack: resources, robotics training, family support, money, and sponsors. They fear deportation each day and have no real hope of a future. They have difficult living and family situations. And this is what makes their first place win against MIT and other top schools so great. For me this story was like the robotics version of the movie Moneyball. These kids use spare parts/junk and spend less than $800 to build a robot that other teams spend more than $15,000 on. These kids win the prestigious competition largely due to the numerous constraints they faced that forced them to think outside the box and become more resourceful than the other teams. The story reminded me of the important role that limitations and constraints play in making us better. Here are 3 takeaways that I got from the movie that can apply to our business and personal lives.
1. More resources, time, or money isn’t always better.
Generally, things are easier to do the more resources you have and the less constraints that are placed on you. Every project or deliverable is easier with more money, more people, more time, more resources, and a supportive environment. Eating healthy and exercising regularly is easier with more money, more time, more energy, extra help, support from others, friends who do the same, and a more healthful environment. But maybe easy isn’t what we should be looking for. When things are easier, we don’t have to think as hard, be as creative, innovate, move as quickly, be as efficient, be as resourceful, or push ourselves as hard. There are fewer problems to solve and fewer obstacles to overcome.
I remember many years ago working for a small company with a tiny budget and many different constraints. Some of the best ideas and breakthroughs in the company came from those early days. You have to think and behave differently under those conditions and you often times do the unexpected or take risks that other companies with more resources (and generally more external expectations) cannot risk to do.
Instead of complaining about the lack of resources/time/money in our lives, we should find the opportunities to grow in the restricted situation!
2. You don’t really know what you’re made of until you are placed under severe constraints or limitations.
You don’t really know how a car performs if you have only driven it in good weather on perfectly paved roads with all perfect drivers around you. You don’t know how well you are budgeting your money if you haven’t ever faced true economic challenges. And you really don’t know how great the leaders are in an organization until they have faced significant challenges within the company. You don’t know how truly committed you are to taking care of yourself until you have had every obstacle thrown at you that could get in the way of eating right and exercising.
Early in my career, I did nutrition counseling for poor and vulnerable populations...talk about difficult situations. But I remember a particular patient of mine who was homeless, lived in a shelter, and also had diabetes. I was always impressed with how responsible he was with coming to his appointments with me at the clinic, how much he listened, and how he did the best he could to manage his diabetes under his harrowing circumstances. He was even more compliant with his food and medications than other patients I have had since then with many more resources and capabilities. I will never forget him!
The true test of what a person can do is when every constraint or limitation possible is presented all at once! And even if you have been under constraints that have forced you to go beyond your normal limits, if it has been a while since you last did that, you may have lost some of those capabilities to overcome. Practice often for best results! Embrace those restrictions and limitations!
Once again, who you are when the stars are aligned and everything is going well may not be the same you when everything has fallen apart and it seems like the world is plotting against you. Take notice of who you become when times get tough and see what you think. You can always make a change to be the person you want to be in any situation, for better or worse!
3. Sometimes you just have to “Make It Work” with what you have.
This is why on the show Project Runway they put aspiring designers into difficult situations and see what they can come up with. A good designer can make beautiful clothes with enough time, material, and budget. But only a great designer can construct a sleek cocktail dress in 2 days, using only camping supplies and a $75 budget! As Tim Gunn famously says on the show, “Make it Work”!
I spend much of time with clients discussing strategies to eat better, exercise or sleep more, spend quality time with loved ones, engage in activities that increase happiness, or do more for their communities only to hear about all of the constraints and obstacles that prevent them from being able to do these things....
...I travel too much and have to eat in airports, hotels, and restaurants. I have a lot of business dinners where there is a lot of alcohol. My boss (or family) isn’t supportive of my exercise routines. I don’t have access to a gym. I hurt my knee and can’t do anything. It’s too hot or it’s too cold to exercise. I don’t have time for hobbies or community work.....and so on.
We all have different circumstances and obstacles that could potentially get in the way of doing what would be considered ideal. We can either focus on the limitations and how much better our lives would be without them OR we can “Make it Work” with what we have!
Is it impressive that the CEO of a major company that makes millions per year is able to eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep enough, and manage stress?...sure...but even more impressive is a single mother, who works two jobs to make ends meet, but still finds a way to feed her family healthfully on a budget, exercise regularly without the benefit of a gym or safe neighborhood, and finds ways to relax from all of the stress in her life.
What can you do to “Make it Work” with the circumstances and resources you have available to you in your life?
The bottom line for me is that restrictions and limitations play an important role in our lives in that they present the opportunity for us to push ourselves in new ways to get better. Don’t just wait for those moments to come into your life...Look for opportunities to perform under these constraints on a regular basis and enjoy the results!