Balance or tension. On one side is understanding where one is and what one can do. There are extremes: I cannot fly but I can walk across the street. On the other side is the challenge to do more and not accept those limits: I will make that audacious pitch to the potential donor and explain why this work is worthy.
I may want to be tall and strong and have different features. And maybe in some science fiction future that will be possible. But right now, I'm old and short and have nose my genetics gave me. I can want to change those things, and with surgery and lifting weights and enough money, I could change them, some. But I won't ever have the physique of Venus or Serena. And I won't be 30 years younger. To be content with the way I look means more energy for other things, means a happiness with life that I value. But looks is not where the tension has meaning in one's life. It's about what one choses to do.
The other side is, in our culture, the myth of the striver, the outsider, the challenger. The person who doesn't accept and goes on to Change Things in A Big Way. This goes back to the LeGuin story of Omelas, that I touched on here. If you've not read it, do. It's challenging. Sometimes the Changer isn't big and strong and noble, just someone who knows right from wrong. We all take a little of that person with us when we do science. It's part and parcel of the process. We don't do the science that was done 10 years ago. We have new things we want to find and discover. [Although see this on the myth of science as "the miracle machine". ]
So limitations or exploding them. Sometimes those limitations get in the way of doing what we want or even what we know we can do. Imposter syndrome travels this subway line. What is a real limitation, and what is the cultural readout we've internalized? What is wanting to fly?
I think about these tensions. I'd like to say "everyday" but most of the time I am probably just moving forward with the tasks at hand. But, everyday, or maybe not quite everyday, I think about these tensions. There is a progression with age, but still, I want to Do The Big Thing in my science. And I am acutely aware of my limitations, my trainees' limitations. I don't want them to get lost trying to fly. But I don't want them to be stuck thinking that they can't, when they can, and so much more.