“Accept My Limitations, Or…Fulfill My Promise?”

Portrait of judith viorst

I’m on a Judith Viorst reading bender right now, which is utterly enjoyable though not really fair to Viorst, because the work of most writers doesn’t benefit from being read one book right after the other. (I must add that in addition to writing for adults, Viorst wrote the immortal picture book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.)


“How do I know if the time has come to

Accept my limitations,

Or whether I still ought to try to

Fulfill my promise?”

— Judith Viorst, “Twenty Questions,” in How Did I Get to Be Forty & Other Atrocities

This quotation reminds me of one of the most important challenges within happiness and habits: “Accept myself, and expect more from myself.

Or as W. H. Auden put it, “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

Or as Flannery O’Connor observed, “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” 

In Happier at Home, I write about how I struggled with this question as I faced my fear of driving. Should I accept a fear of driving as a natural limit of my nature, or should I expect myself to conquer that fear? Very reluctantly, I decided to make myself start driving again.

Is there an area where you struggle to decide whether to “accept my limitations” or to “fulfill my promise”?



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