Reality Check: I Am Only…

When I dashed into the grocery store to pick up coffee that was on sale, I fully expected to find none on the shelf. Surprise! The shelf was full. There was even a sign that showed the correct sale price!

Nowhere could I see anything to indicate a limit on how many I could buy. As it was such a great deal, I wanted to get as many as allowed. I figured that might be 4, so I picked up 4 bottles and went off to the cash.

The cashier was friendly and cheerful, so as I handed over my bottles, I told her that I had assumed that 4 was the limit. She told me that there was no limit this week; I could get more if I wanted them.

Her next question really caught my attention. She laughed and asked, “Are you limiting yourself, honey?”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Nothing had indicated that there was a constraint on what I could do. I just assumed there was a limit, because that’s the way it often is.

So, are we limiting ourselves in other ways, honey?

Where do our limits come from? Sometimes they are imposed by external forces. For example, the store manager can limit how much coffee we buy. The employer can limit how much we’re paid. The weather can limit whether we mow the lawn. The body can limit how much we can exert ourselves.

Other limits are self-imposed, and that’s often a good thing! Self-imposed limits can keep us from over-indulging by eating too much, drinking too much, or staying up all night binge-watching Netflix. Consciously limiting our fun now so we can achieve a more meaningful goal later is just self-discipline.

However, are there times when we limit ourselves without even realizing it? One indicator that this is what could be happening is when we start a sentence with, “I am only…”

Now, we could be making a simple statement of fact, such as, “I am only 5 foot 2.”

But more likely, the phrase is used as a self-diminishing reflection. “I am only a retiree; I am only a mother; I am only a production worker; I am only one person; I am only ordinary.”

When we start a sentence with, “I am only…” we tend to proceed by expressing what we can’t do. “I am only a retiree; I can’t have any influence.” “I am only a production worker; I can’t go to college.” “I am only ordinary; I can’t make a difference for anybody.”

We can choose our mindset and what we focus on. We can focus on what we can’t do, or on what we can do. We can focus on what could go wrong, or what could go right. We can focus on our weaknesses, or on our strengths.

Both ways of looking have value. There are certainly benefits to being mindful of what we can’t do, of what can go wrong, and of our weaknesses. But is that the whole story?

The self-evaluation component of choice theory suggests that we ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing working for me?”

Here’s an experiment. If you are about to say, “I am only…” try rephrasing to, “I am only…, yet I can…” Or go positive. “I am a retiree; I can influence.” “I am a production worker; I can go to college.” “I am ordinary; I can make a difference.” Is that approach better? Or worse?

I am only a writer of columns. Yet I can encourage folks to examine their choices, their freedoms, and to seek information to live more satisfying lives.

Thank you to Betty and Elwood for the inspiration to choose this topic for a column.

Do you ever say, “I am only…”?

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