Limits Set Boundaries—and Boundaries Set You Free
Shortly after The Cat in the Hat came out in 1957, Theodor Geisel’s publisher at Random House, Bennett Cerf, came up with a seemingly foolproof way to take 50 bucks off his old friend Ted—whom the rest of us know, of course, as the inimitable Dr. Seuss.
Geisel had struggled to complete The Cat in the Hat. He’d been asked to write the book by another publishing executive, William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin, who’d wanted Geisel to create “a book children can’t put down”—i.e., the antithesis of the deadly Sally, Dick, and Jane books that were widely in use at the time.
But there was a catch to the Cat in the Hat assignment: Geisel was limited to a list of 225 approved words for the book, words that would be familiar to young readers and therefore easy for them to say and understand.
It took him a year and a half, but Geisel eventually succeeded in writing The Cat in the Hat. But he needed 237 unique words, not 225.
So Cerf, over at Random House, thought he’d wring some easy money out of those extra dozen words and the blood and sweat that had led to them.
He bet Geisel $50—a little over $500 in today’s money—that Geisel couldn’t write an articulate, entertaining children’s story using only 50 unique words.
Months later, Cerf sat in his office dazed and shaking his head as Geisel triumphantly read to him the text of … Green Eggs and Ham—which clocks in at exactly 50 unique words.
(If you’re anything like me, you just have to know what they are. Here you go: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.)
I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss considered himself an introvert. What I can tell you, though—with great certainty coming from my own introverted perspective—is that the creative spark Geisel harnessed to write Green Eggs and Ham can be summed up in a brief yet powerful statement.
I’ve come to know—and leverage—this counterintuitive principle firsthand.
Please join me im welcoming Peter Vogt to Beyond Introversion as our guest blogger for May. I met Peter earlier this year when he honored me with a review of my first book in his newsletter, Introvert Insights. Since then, I've discovered the dedication, wisdom, and passion Peter has for sharing stories, educating, and inspiring introverts around the world. Please enjoy his article and check out his newsletter and upcoming course.
12 ≠ 13
In college, I did an internship at the local daily newspaper. I covered sports, so part of my job involved going to games and writing about them for the next day’s edition.
I learned to write quickly, on tight deadlines.
I also learned, covering my very first game, that 12 ≠ 13.
When I’d arrived back to the office from the game, my editor had told me to write 12 column inches of copy because that was the exact size of the “hole” he had left for my article in the layout of the next morning’s sports section.
I foolishly wrote 13 inches, figuring “close enough.”
Which prompted the cut-and-paste guys in the back to lop my story off at the 12-inch mark, leaving my precious virgin article ending with the word “and” (and no punctuation).
I have never again written beyond the assigned space.
Limits are limits. They restrict you.
But a few years back, I discovered that they free you too—especially if you’re an introvert.
The Flip Side of Limits
At the time, I was looking for a way to write about introverts and introversion, consistently and on a schedule, and in a format that people would actually see and read.
I had tried blogging, but it had always felt like I was blogging into the black hole that is the Internet. Even when I did write posts, I was forever discouraged by the fact that the blank page was an infinite blank page, which in turn was a mere molecule in an infinite space.
I was constantly overwhelmed. Which meant I was constantly paralyzed.
What to do?
Well, those old newspaper guys ended up teaching me another lesson, albeit backhandedly and 30 years after the fact.
It occurred to me that I needed to put boundaries on what I was trying to do, to create a starting line and, especially, a finish line. So I designed an eight-page—as in eight real, physical pages—newsletter, which of course has a series of finite spaces to fill with text and photos.
Every month since 2018, I’ve been filling those finite spaces, one by one, and thus continuously publishing my free Introvert Insights newsletter for subscribers around the world.
I’m amazed each time I go to the post office and send my babies on their way.
Limits really do set you free.
Limits Are Your Friend
Do you want to write a novel? Don’t think about writing it—all of it, that is—today. Tell yourself you’re going to write 500 words today. Or, more powerful yet—because it’s even more tangible—fill only one 8 ½- by 11-inch page today.
Want to build something out of the scrap metal in your garage so that you can try selling stuff on Etsy? Pick 10 of the scraps at random and see what you can do with them. Only them.
Looking for a new job and dreading the idea of going to a networking event? Limit yourself to one event, and see what you can do with one solid connection you make there.
Yes, you’ll be going against the grain with this intentionally limiting approach, particularly in Western culture where—let’s face it—we don’t like limits.
But when it comes to your introversion and all the processing and planning and (over)thinking that goes with it, limits can push you beyond your limits.
Who Owes Whom?
In all the many years following the publication of Green Eggs and Ham, Theodor Geisel liked to joke that Bennett Cerf had never paid off on his losing bet. It became a running gag between the two men.
Yet the grateful Geisel never demanded to collect, nor did he expect to. Maybe that’s because, deep down, he knew how the story should really end.
He should have paid Cerf.
And come to think of it, I should go back and pay those old newspaper guys too.
Bio: Peter Vogt
Peter Vogt is The Introvert Advocate. He’s been studying and writing about introverts for more than 20 years. He’s the author of The Introvert Manifesto and publisher of Introvert Insights, a free monthly newsletter that is printed and mailed to subscribers around the world.
Peter is now launching the beta version of his eight-module online course, “Be the Introvert You Are! The Introvert’s Way to a Healthy, Happy Life.”
For a limited time, this beta version is available for just $95 (instead of the $495 the course will cost at full-fledged launch). If you’d like to take the beta version of the course, simply fill out this two-question (your name and your email address) form:
To learn more, contact Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit:
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I am pleasantly surprised to see that you responded to my contribution! Thank you for your knowledge and insight! I am enjoying your work and am glad that the subject of introversion is being explored and shared on a bigger scale. I sure wish I had known these things about myself years ago! -CG 2/10/2022
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Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
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