One of the things I hated being told growing up was actually meant to be encouraging: “You have so much potential.” This is a positive thing… or is it? For me, when I was told this as a kid it felt like I was being judged and given homework at the same time: “You’re not good enough yet. You better work harder to be what you should be.” In my twenties I was still hearing this and it started feeling like I was being told: “You’re not a grown up yet, but one day.” The crazy thing is as much as I hate this saying, I now find myself wanting to say this to other people. Talk about a double standard. Ultimately, this idea begs the question: What does it mean to have potential? Let’s start with a simple scale:
For this scale 0 is no effort and 10 is reaching your potential. Notice I wrote reaching your potential. The truth is our potential is affected by age and experience. For instance, Wayne Gretzky at age 21 will be far superior at playing hockey to Wayne Gretzky at his current age no matter how hard he tries and practices. Age wise there is a peak for certain activities, but we can still be at our “full” potential even if we are not as good as we would be at a different age. The great thing is, as age causes our skill level to go down in one area, it opens the door for another skill to be better in another area. Thus, by potential I mean reaching your best state for what you have to work with at that time.
For those who want a little more, here’s a more complicated scale:
For this scale, the 0 and 10 remain the same (0 means no attempt to reach your potential, and 10 is reaching your potential), and now we have -10 as a way to grade those people who are sabotaging their lives with bad choices. For instance, the other day someone told me she keeps being told she’s not reaching her potential, and she wasn’t sure why. Don’t worry; I told her why she’s sucking it right now. She laughed, and she appreciated how I put it because the truth is she’s sabotaging herself by making some seriously bad choices. The 20 on this scale is meant to indicate putting too much effort to reach your potential. For instance, I’m old and have no chance of becoming a professional athlete, but if I played hockey ten hours a day I’d get pretty good, but I’d never make the NHL. Thus, if I’m spending ten hours a day on hockey, I’d be wasting waaaaayyyyy too much time on one thing that has little benefit to me when I can be working on a bunch of things that will help me have a better life; you know, like a job and family; those are important to live properly. Thus, this question, ‘what is my full potential?’ is important because it can help us direct how we’re spending our time and energy. For instance, I’m terrible with paperwork (as pointed out by my boss) so my potential for how good I’ll be administratively is limited. I hate finicky paperwork because to me they don’t really matter; hence, I called it finicky paperwork. At the same time, my ability to connect with people and be creative is quite high. If I want to reach my potential as a person in general, I need to be spending more time doing what I’m good at and finding ways to avoid the things that frustrate me and keep me down. As a whole, if I want to be at my best as a person in general, I need to be doing what brings me a sense of joy and fulfillment.
This question of potential ultimately concludes with how I want my potential to be defined. Is my potential defined by how much money I make? Is it how famous I become? Or is my potential better served focused on things like do I get along with family? Am I content? Am I helping the world be better in some small way (because it’s all small)? Am I providing for my family in a healthy way? Am I a good person? If you ask me, when it comes to being a good person, there are a lot of people on the two extreme ends of this scale. There are people in the -10 range because they’re making a whole lot of bad choices that are sabotaging them from reaching their full potential as a person in general. Then there are those at the other end around the 20 mark because they’re working way too hard to be a good person; they’re workaholics, people pleasing to the point of being a pushover, and taking way to much stress on. Reaching your potential means you keep anxiety and stress in check because those end up hurting us.
May this week help you realize you’re closer to reaching your potential than you previously felt.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people