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If I told you to close your eyes and picture Jerry Garcia, what picture would come to mind first?

Okay, second. Because the obvious word association is a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

If I’m guessing correctly, you envisioned a middle-aged guy with a thick beard and unkempt hair on stage playing guitar for a packed stadium.

If you’re like me, you recognize the band, you can sing along with some of their songs, but perhaps you can’t name the other band members, or you’ve never been to a show. You’re not a “Dead Head,” per se. So you may not realize something about Jerry Garcia’s guitar style.

Jerry wasn’t playing at full capacity. He was missing a digit.

That’s right. He had only 90% of the guitar-playing capability that we have. He lost the middle finger of his strumming hand while chopping wood.

He’s not the only one.

Have you ever heard of Django Reinhardt? I hadn’t, until I was talking about Jerry Garcia’s finger with my guitar-enthusiast husband. Django Reinhardt is heralded as one of the greatest jazz guitarists that ever lived.

He was operating at 80% capacity. He had no use of his ring and pinky fingers on his left hand – they were injured in a house fire.

Yes, I said left hand. That’s the fret side, the busy side.

Edit: someone who knows his way around a guitar had to step in. This is the part where my husband read my draft and enlightened me on what the left hand means to a guitar player.

“Eighty percent? No, you’re not getting it. Each chord shape takes 3-4 fingers. Each scale pattern is formed by 3-4 fingers. What he had to push past – it’s incalculable.”

Django and Jerry’s handicaps could have shut them down. Instead, Django and Jerry decided to meet their walls, add their own bricks and build to the sky. They both plowed through their limitations and developed their own unique styles out of their respective injuries.

Apparently Jerry’s style was effective. People dedicated their lives to watch Jerry play guitar. Mobile villages formed to follow them around the world with all of their belongings in the back of a van. Django played with legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

Admittedly, I don’t know a thing about guitar except that I like the way they sound. Let’s talk about something I do know – piano. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are blind. Beethoven was deaf and composed entire symphonies. I can’t begin to understand how one coordinates that without frequent in-process QC checks.

So when we feel the “if only” song and dance coming on…

Maybe you’re after guitar mastery, or you want to write a book, or ace your semester, or get giant quads.

Whatever it is you want to do, remember, we’re probably operating at full capacity. If we’re not, I think we have a few examples showing us that it doesn’t have to matter. There are a few exceptions, but the rest of us have a tendency to come up with piles and piles of excuses. It’s up to us to decide to let them stop us or wave at them as we pass and keep going.

So when your barriers, imagined or real, start to clamor for attention, throw up your middle finger.

Because you can.

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