There is a fair amount of self-help out there detailing how one can do it all, be it all, live the life you have imagined (and so on, etc). I respectfully disagree.
You and I will never reach our potential. What potential exactly do you have in mind? Your potential when you were 5 years old? Your potential today? Your potential 10 years from now? The thing about potential is that it keeps changing. Let’s say today I have the potential to write a song. So I write a song. Then I probably have the potential to write an album. So I write an album’s worth of songs. Then I have the potential to record, go on tour. Ok. Then I could start a recording label. Then I could sign 100 other artists to my label. Then I could fund music education for kindergarten students across the state, the country, the world. Then I could teach chimpanzees to play the flute.
As soon as you’ve done something, taken action and made something real, your potential kind of expands from there. So the more you do, the more potential you have to do other things. Did Einstein reach his potential? Or with each new accomplishment did he create a whole lot of untapped potential?
A tricky thing about potential is that once you have accomplished something and your potential expands, this creates a never-ending loop of needing to do even more to meet your new and improved potential. When does it stop? When will I feel like I’ve really given all I could give?
I’m writing this because I was feeling kind of ornery about “not reaching my potential.” But then realized that I don’t believe anyone who tells me they will help me reach my potential. Because that actually can’t happen. So I should stop feeling dreary because I’m not reaching my potential and do one of two things:
I can look at what I can do today, take some small action to grow, enjoy that action if at all possible, be thankful for the ability to do the action and for whoever supported me to take the action. Repeat. Don’t worry so much about the potential as about the moment.
Alternately I can recognize that whatever “potential” I feel I have is based in large part on what I have done in the past. So that’s cool. I’ve done some things, I can feel happy to have had those opportunities, appreciative of the people who supported me (and those who criticized me too and helped me to learn!). I can sit down somewhere, drink a cup of tea, take some breaths, appreciate what’s happened so far and enjoy the fact that I will never reach my potential for a few minutes.
I will never reach my potential.
I can never reach my potential.
I don’t have to worry about reaching my potential.
It feels kind of liberating.
Maybe it’s just me but I feel better already.
Now maybe I’ll sit down and write that song.