ca·pac·i·ty – noun \kə-ˈpa-sə-tē, -ˈpas-tē\

: the ability to hold or contain people or things
: the largest amount or number that can be held or contained
: the ability to do something
: a mental, emotional, or physical ability


I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you after last week’s word—deadline—that this week’s word is capacity. For the past few days, I’ve been operating at my maximum potential. I made the trip to Chicago; all our guests were well-fed and welcomed. I even played a few games with my mom and niece at the state park lodge while Steve, my brother, and all the boys went hiking. The work is getting done, too. The deadline is just two days away now, and we will have a completed manuscript to submit. It feels good.

But I know that I can’t continue running full-steam ahead forever. In fact, the capacity I’m operating under isn’t even my own. If my life were a boat, I’m normally more of a ferry, carrying significant loads, but running short, predictable trips on a set schedule. This week, I’ve been more of a cruise ship, filled with passengers, making long passes with multiple stops, and lots of entertainment along the way. (Not to mention the all-you-can-eat buffet.)

I love this ship analogy, first introduced to me by Ann Kroeker in her book, Not So Fast: Slow-down Solutions for Frenzied Families. She writes, “Every person is like a ship, with a specific and limited God-determined capacity for activities and obligations unique to that individual. Some can take on extremely heavy loads on a daily basis and only barely exhibit signs of stress—they thrive on challenges, complications, and chaos and might feel bored if their ship is riding light and high in the water for too long. . . . Trouble is, they set the standard for others who may be able to juggle only a few responsibilities before taking on water. . . . It’s hard for the sailboats and fishing trawlers of the world to say no without feeling guilty, weak, or second-rate.”


Add to our analogy the concept of the Plimsoll mark, the line drawn on ships to indicate their load limits. When the weight of the ship submerges the hull so the line is below water, the vessel is operating above capacity with the risk of sinking under the pressure. “If we learn our limits and remain at or above our personal and family Plimsoll mark,” Ann writes, “we have some wiggle room. We can be available to each other and to other people.”

The truth is, for the past few days, I haven’t been operating at my maximum potential. I exceeded my capacity sometime Monday morning and kept going until last night. I was a ferry boat offering a five-day excursion with shuffle board and lounge singers. It worked for a while. I don’t regret for a moment the time I spent with family and friends, even if it meant late night vacuuming and early morning baking.

But now, it’s back to the predictable schedule, back to operating at or just below capacity, back to the load limits and rhythms that really allow this vessel to sail.



Photo above by Marcell Dietl, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.

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