When the Wright brothers flew the first aircraft in 1903, they redefined the course of history.
Suddenly, the world had become a lot smaller. There was possibility all around, and over the next few decades, the aviation industry began to boom and people were paying attention.
Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous names of the era. Remembered as a determined and adventurous woman, she became not only the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, but she would also go on to be a cherished author and teacher.
The public loved her, and she used that spotlight to inspire countless people around the world. Men, women, and children from everywhere followed her on her adventures.
Today, there is a lot of myth-making and intrigue regarding the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance during a flight around the globe in 1937. There is much that we still don’t know about what exactly happened, and where things may have gone wrong.
That said, we know enough to learn from the example she set. Saying that she pushed boundaries is an understatement. She lived like they didn’t exist. Maybe even too much so.
Yet, many of the most meaningful undertakings in life require us to stretch beyond the rules and limitations imposed on us by our surroundings. It’s not always easy to do so. Using Earhart’s story, however, we can deconstruct how to get past such boundaries by:
• Recognizing the illusion of the status quo
• Pushing beyond the point of no return
• Harnessing the positive feedback cycle
Some boundaries may indeed be worth being cautious of, but most of them are needless.
Recognize the Illusion of the Status Quo
The primary purpose of written rules and established boundaries is to keep our different systems in check and to ensure that any risk of potential harm to those systems is lessened.
For example, different countries have their constitutions in place to outline their belief systems about how the individuals in their nations are to live and to exist. They also have general laws to ensure that the behavior of those individuals is aligned with expectations.
When it comes to complex systems involving a lot of people, it’s quite obvious why such rules, limitations, and boundaries are important. It would be hard to function well without them.
That said, when it comes to most social rules that fall outside of the law, it’s different. They often aren’t needed to provide the benefits of keeping order. In fact, they’re really nothing more than mental narratives that summarize the standard belief of a herd population.
Throughout her early life, Amelia Earhart dealt with constant prejudice for her hobbies. Aviation wasn’t exactly considered conventional for a young girl. It was an “activity for boys.”
Truth be told, at that time in history, for many women, that advice may even have been sound given what they would have had to deal with by going against the social narrative.
Earhart was different, though. She knew what excited her, and she was determined enough to see past the general illusion that flying wasn’t something that young women did.
Part of her going against the grain was likely inspired by courage, but a bigger part was maybe that the conventional advice of her time just didn’t apply to her and who she was.
Vague and general boundaries that we refer to as the status quo are set for the average person. Sometimes that includes you, but much of the time, it’s an illusionary limitation.
Push Beyond the Point of No Return
The most common boundary that many of us struggle to face in life is the one that lies between what we know and what we don’t know. What we can do and what we can’t do.
It’s generally intimidating because of the work that it takes to get to the other side. Is it worth the time and the commitment? Are you even someone who is capable of making the push?
These are the questions that tend to pop up. The answer to both of them is often “yes.”
The beauty and the reward of pushing past boundaries is that, once you do, you never have to look back. Your expectations, knowledge, and worldviews have been readjusted, and you can reap the benefits of being someone who isn’t confined to a narrow part of reality.
Think of a child learning to walk or to ride a bike. Initially, that child will struggle, but slowly, with time, her effort will result in a permanent reward. She’ll never forget how to walk or how to ride a bike. The cost of pushing that boundary is nothing relative to the long-term gain.
When Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, she immediately fell into the public eye. Her subsequent accomplishments not only inspired generations of women around the world, but they also caused aviation to gain widespread public appeal.
By pushing past what was then viewed as a boundary, she continued to challenge the dominant perception of what was and wasn’t possible, and the world hasn’t looked back.
Once you defy a limitation, whether it’s by learning a new skill or by facing a personal fear, you cross the point of no return, and your initial effort yields a disproportionately large reward.
Harness the Positive Feedback Cycle
As Earhart continued her adventures, she did more and more to promote aviation and other causes close to her. She wrote a best-selling book about her experiences, she took the lead on political causes, and she became a visiting professor at Purdue University.
With time, even her flying accomplishments built on each other to nudge her past other records and boundaries. She pioneered solo routes and continued to set her sights higher.
Although she didn’t make it back from her second attempt at a world flight, she lived a full life until the age of 41. She summarized the fuel of her accomplishments best herself:
“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do.”
In physics, Newton’s first law states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion and in the same direction. That’s a good analogy for humans, too.
When we bypass boundaries or push past the point of no return, we gain momentum built on leverage and a better understanding of reality, and this tends to slowly reinforce itself. Over time, it creates a positive feedback cycle that lets you do more than you might even imagine.
The better your habits, the better they will become. The more you accomplish, the more you can accomplish. The hardest part is getting off the ground and not breaking the chain. Beyond that, the world is on your side if you just continue pushing in the right direction.
No one starts off breaking records and doing the improbable. People like Earhart begin with a sense of curiosity and challenge, and as time goes on, they just pick more suitable targets.
All You Need to Know
At some point, we all face boundaries, whether they be from external factors or an internal monologue, that hold us back from getting what we want or from facing an important reality.
These limitations may indeed be unique to our individual situation, but at their root, they’re no different from the kind of setbacks that Amelia Earhart faced in her quest for adventure.
There are three things we can learn from her example about defying boundaries:
I. Recognize the illusion of the status quo. Most boundaries imposed on us as social norms and common conventions (that lie outside of the rule of law) are mental narratives of a herd population that concerns itself with what’s best for the average person. They serve as a good rule of thumb, but they’re not always relevant to you.
II. Push beyond the point of no return. The boundaries between what we know and what we don’t know, and similarly, what we can do and what we can’t do, are some of the most important limitations to bypass. Once you do, you never look back because you get to reap the reward of permanently having a new skill or an improved outlook. The initial cost of the effort may be intimidating, but it’s nothing relative to the benefit.
III. Harness the positive feedback cycle. The more you do, the more you can do. Getting started is often the hardest part, but beyond that, if you can maintain some degree of consistency, you gain immense leverage, and you build a recurring momentum that makes it easier to keep improving and to continue moving in the desired direction.
Most meaningful pursuits, whether they be in your personal or professional life, lie beyond standard rules and limitations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re out of reach.
If you accept and treat them for what they are, you have all you need to push past them.
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