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Limitation Creates Value

I once heard a beautiful story about Lou Reed. He was at a party when someone mentioned an old R&B tune. “I love that song,” Lou said. “Especially the guitar solo.” Then he sang the solo out loud, which came out of him as all one note. Somebody there said they realized Lou actually heard music that way. That was his genius. Like a black-and-white photographer, he could narrow his artistic palette down to a single color and explore it fully.

Limitation creates value. In our society, people often create value by cultivating artificial scarcity. Landlords keep apartments vacant to drive up prices. Collectors hoard objects so they’ll appreciate. That kind of withholding does create a certain short-term value. But it also hurts people, including the ones doing the withholding. I’ve known folks who never find the relationships they want because they only know how to play hard-to-get, or artists who never let anyone see their work because they’re scared of being copied.

You don’t need to artificially inflate your value. Your value is already there, hidden among the fears, doubts, and judgments you have about yourself. Knowing your worth comes not from boasting, but from exploring what feels most extreme about you and following it as close to the bone as possible. If you worry you’re too shy, try leaning into your shyness even more. If you worry you’re too weird, try being even weirder. Test each version of yourself till you find the truest, and let the chips fall where they may.

This is actually how we come to belong. Belonging is not what happens when we conform to other people’s expectations. Belonging comes from realizing that which only you can do, and doing it fully. This process of being singular, ironically, places you in community with others who need your unique gifts. You can spend a lifetime trying to fit in and still feel like an outsider. Or you can come to be yourself, and realize that you cannot help but belong.

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