What to Know About the Upper Limit Problem

upper limit problem

Have you heard about the Upper Limit Problem? Should you care?

The Upper Limit Problem is the new topic du jour in the self-improvement world – a personal behavior dilemma defined by psychiatrist and CEO coach Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap and reverberating throughout the Internet via websites, blogs and online news sources.

The premise

Each of us has an internal thermometer for how much success, wealth, happiness and love we let ourselves experience. The Upper Limit is our success comfort zone. Life guru Marie Forleo (dubbed The New Oprah) takes it one step further – addressing self-sabotaging behavior or psychosomatic ailments when approaching or surpassing the Upper Limit.

Prime Women asked me to explore the relevance for the 50+ woman. It’s been fun gathering points of view.

Here are my conclusions:

1. We’ve already out-performed.

Good grief, look at our early media influencers – TV housewives Lucy Ricardo, June Cleaver, Laura Petrie et al. Episode after episode, they were foiled any time they tried to break out of the traditional domestic mold. Growing up, our career options focused on teaching, nursing and secretarial. As Baby Boomers, we were weaned on Upper Limits!

Then the EEOC and Supreme Court put some teeth into anti-discrimination laws and we invaded the higher-income business and professional worlds – competing with men who didn’t want us there, learning to Dress for Success and gearing up for competitive warfare via assertiveness training classes.

We have lived through 8+ recessions (depending on your age), the end of womb-to-tomb employment, waves of downsizing and outsourcing, the gig economy, transition from defined pensions to 401k retirement self-financing, road warrior travel, new technologies and the 24/7 work world. Even volunteering has taken on a professional bent due to competition and budgets with non-profits and schools.

Not to mention personal life passages of marriage, childrearing, relocation, elder parent issues and the 3 D’s — death, disease and, for some, divorce.

If you have reached the Fabulous Fifty milestone, you have already stretched way past your Upper Limit many times over. Congratulations!

2. Freedom to choose.

At this stage of life, we are ready to mix it up. We’ve worked hard for that privilege.

Many prime women pass the Upper Limit of what they want in career achievement, earnings and years of service. It’s a quick adios to the office and a happy entry into the stage-of-life formerly known as retirement. Today’s active lifestyle.

For those still in the work force, there may be less pressure or desire to achieve — in comparison to an earlier stage of career ascent. With an accumulation of experience and skills, we can operate with optimum capabilities if we have kept up with trends and technologies. Work gets easier!

Those who want to work less and enjoy more can design a work/life pattern that ebbs and flows with market forces and personal choice. Thus, our demographic is moving beyond a different type of Upper Limit to experience more of what is enjoyable for us!

3. The economic Upper Limit.

Net worth, cash flow and retirement coffers determine the Upper Limit of the lifestyle we will be able to live. Prime women are smart and savvy, building a plan around financial realities. Some will continue to work for the pure joy and personal satisfaction. Others will work to counteract financial shortfalls or setbacks.

Because we are information gatherers, and sharers, we are constantly gaining insights on options, possibilities, risks and fallback positions. This helps us make better decisions and forge positive outcomes. Being on the conservative side at this stage of life is better than pushing the Upper Limit of spending.

4. Focus on enjoyment.

Is it possible for workaholic achievers to disengage from a long career and stretch the Upper Limit of pure enjoyment? The answer is yes!

We know from our circles of prime women friends the range of lifestyles, enterprises and personal pursuits that are possible.

My husband has retired from the oil industry and we have been on the circuit of retirement parties, Annual Shareholder Meetings, annuitant breakfasts with the CEO, and more. I was interested to see how a specific audience accustomed to four decades of structure in global public companies would adapt to something new. The answer: Easily!

His former colleagues are travelling, enjoying grandchildren, starting financial advisory businesses, charter air services, moving into trendy high-rise condos, learning Spanish.

My husband’s theory: People are happy because they get to step away from long-standing work obligations and focus on maximizing enjoyment, i.e., the Upper Limit. The freedom comes from a base of security, knowing they have the capability to draw on a strong work ethic and resourcefulness in case of a crisis and setback.

5. Reinvention is easier when it’s your idea.

Prime women are masters of re-invention. We identify a target, then arm ourselves to pursue. We reach into our Upper Level of capability. If we have to shift gears, no problem. We re-calibrate.

The challenge is when something unwanted is thrust upon us. Or, even worse, a trifecta.

If your husband is terminally ill, you know you will be a widow. Mandatory retirement policies are non-negotiable. Milestone birthdays are inevitable. When they hit at the same time, you have to draw on your Upper Level of strength. Dating at a certain age! Sometimes, things happen in 3s. It’s a daunting confluence of challenge – but get through it and you can then enjoy a respite.

From pain comes gain. Three years after the crisis hits, you realize you have an impressive new competency. But…oh the pain level…and who wants to re-live that episode of life? Or…you may have a different approach and build an initiative that helps others who are now in your shoes.

What is meaningful to you?

At this stage of life, it’s important to know what matters and devote the Upper Limit of our energies to the prize. Starting new businesses or initiatives may not have appeal – even to the highest of achievers. We know from experience what it will take to succeed. And, we may not be willing to make that investment of time, money and energy. “I don’t want to lose control of how I allocate my time,” one Prime Woman told me. “After a lifetime of serving others, I want to be the decider.”

50+ women are HAPPY, confirms Laura Carstensen, who leads the Stanford Center on longevity (See her TED Talk, here) Her research shows that as we age, we make peace with life’s accomplishments and failures. In other words, Prime Women have less ambiguity to stress about. We get on with life, accordingly!

The Upper Limit problem – isn’t so much of a problem for many of us.