The Power of Constraints

Spielberg couldn’t show the shark. He didn’t have digital special effects or a blockbuster budget; just an underwater camera and a mechanical rubber shark that kept sinking in the bay. So he had to find another way. He used a fin and harpoon barrels and a tire attached to a meathook to tell you where the your fear needed to be focused. And the music. That music, now auditorily synonymous with fear, told you all you needed to know about when to be afraid. The result was a movie about a killer shark in which 80 minutes pass before you see a shark.

At the time, it’s not likely Steven Spielberg would have told you that he appreciated the technological and economic limitations being put on him when he made Jaws. In hindsight though, those limitations forced him to focus his genius on what could be done. So he made an artistic masterpiece.

Talent and energy, focused on a narrow space, is really what art is after all.

A painter can draw from the entirety of creation to choose a subject to paint. But she’s limited to the boundaries of the canvas to express it. The nine scenes from The Book of Genesis may be painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But Michelangelo eventually found a wall. So at some point, he had to make a choice and focus his transcendent genius on a subset frustratingly less than the creation of the known universe.

Art imitates life. Sometimes, it’s the other way around though. So much of creating something important, is about bouncing off the edge of life’s canvas from time to time, to focus on the space that we have before us.

Special needs parenting is full of limitations. There are things our kids will never be able to do. And so there are things that we will never be able to do. We spend so much of our time and energy with our kids pushing so hard to grow ability and expand horizons. And we should. Because precious little ground is gained on its own in our world. But we can spend so much time expanding our limitations, that we miss out on the opportunity to focus our energy and talents in the spaces we do have.

Eventually, you’re going to have to get going on painting the canvas you have.

I don’t have the bandwidth for hobbies like golf or fishing. I can’t burn that much time when single parent operations are as hard as they are for us. So I don’t. That’s beyond the edge of my canvas. But I do have time for a cup of coffee and 45 minutes of blogging in the morning before everyone gets up. And since it’s not something I have a ton of time to do, I’ve gotten frighteningly efficient at creating content. Now I have a blog a few million people have read over the last few years and a book coming out because my constraints focused my energy and talent on writing.

My wife is a mental health professional with a gift for connecting with others. But our situation didn’t support two full time working parents. So she started where she was with what she had and founded the non-profit Care For Us. Now there are families in our city who are connected to a special needs support community getting support and therapy and sharing resources. She’s been kind enough to let me blog on its website from time to time. Maybe that’s how you found us.

There’s power in fighting your limitations. And so there’s power dancing with them just long enough to inspire you to live within them.

So do whatever you can to make sure your canvas is absolutely as big as it can be. In the special needs parenting world, no one else will ever do that for you. But no one’s ever going to paint your picture for you either. So bounce of the edge from time to time just to make sure it’s still there. But if and when you find that it is, get to work on painting.

Art is talent and energy focused on a narrow space after all. So is special needs parenting.


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