For a long time in my life I was the potential guy. I was the guy people looked at and assumed I would do something big with my life. At 35 I can almost certainly assure you I have not come close to the potential others thought I had, but especially what I thought I was capable of. I feel like I need to make up for lost time as I wasted so much of it chasing happiness rather than attempting to pursue my potential. Do I resent this? At times, absolutely. It affects me deeply because for a big chunk of my 20s I did not put my true best effort forth even though outside looking in it probably looked like I was doing the work. I was getting the recognition and career advancement, but based on the vision I have for myself and knowing what I have accomplished over the last 3 years I can assure you I was not. I was holding myself back and I know a lot of it had to do with fear. Fear of failure for sure but more than likely it was the fear of achieving my potential that really held me back. I was scared shitless of the expectations that would create so I would always leave something on the table, I would hold back something and that protected me from both those fears. It is much harder to fail when you don’t push to your limits and you never have to worry about reaching your current potential if you are not putting in maximum effort.
For most of my life I was under the impression that potential was something finite something you achieved or found, not something you had inside of you the whole time that you developed, nurtured and grew. What I have realized in the last couple of years is that your potential is not a destination it is an ever expanding world you unlock inside of yourself and the limits of it are only defined by your imagination and the work you are willing to put in. This has put me on the path of constant improvement. The premise of potential unfulfilled has pushed me more than almost anything else. So I am going to lay it all out and attempt to define the two ways you can never reach your potential. From there you can make your own conclusions.
My premise invariably is that no matter what we do we are never going to reach our potential. I am not even sure it is something we need to focus on and that our main focus should be on fulfillment (which we need to be very careful not to confuse this with happiness). Now that this is out of the way I want to surmise the two very distinct ways we can leave potential on the table and how that has affected my life.
As we see with almost every record broken, person of greatness and obstacle in our way we eventually overcome whatever is in front of us and if it isn’t us that overcomes it, someone else always does. If potential was a finite thing and each of us only had so much of it, at some point as an individual and a species we would hit our limits, there would be an obstacle that we could not overcome. Yet here we are through just about everything imaginable with our indomitable spirit well intact. We have all seen things deemed impossible toppled throughout history and often by the underdog to boot. This brings up my first key point. You will absolutely never reach your potential because invariably as we continue to work, practice and improve the things we love we expand what we are capable of; this effort increases the maximum potential for ourselves and for those that come after us. It may be incredibly difficult to cross over certain thresholds but once they are crossed often the proverbial floodgates are opened. Just like Roger Banister surpassing the 4-minute mile in 1954. This feat was deemed impossible, it was actually touted as dangerous to even attempt and the absolute limit of human performance. Yet here we sit 75ish years later and the record is down to 3:43.13 and almost 1500 people have surpassed the 4 minute barrier. This is a story I reflect on as I love running, but I am sure each person that reads this will be able to recollect a story similar. And at this point the only thing that seems impossible is trying to set the limitations of human performance in any category we can think of. Now you may not be chasing a 4-minute mile or any athletic endeavor for that matter but in every industry, hobby and pursuit there have been limits met and then exceeded. We have yet to find the ends of our potential in any single area.
But there is another side to this potential coin and the other path to never achieving it.
Just don’t try.
It is so simple, easy and utterly unfulfilling. Let your potential sit out there in front of you and never reach for it. Instead we reach for the remote, our phone or a beer and wonder why there is always this nagging feeling of needing more. It is so strange how our brain works because we know we need more but often what we pursue are the things that keep us where we are. This is a place many of us get stuck in, usually when we are on a path we don’t want to be our end goal or after what we have decided is a big failure. I for one got stuck here for a number of years after I parted ways with my big fancy Director of Ops role in a big unnamed corporate company. I felt like I came crawling back to Original Joe’s (who I am incredibly grateful to for accepting me back with open arms). I went from a director of operations of western Canada title (see also corporate douchebag) back to operating a single store. No matter why I made the change which ultimately saved me, it was a huge blast to my ego and I did not deal with it well at all. It took me the better part of 2 years to lick my wounds and realize I was only a failure if I never picked myself back up. Through those 2 years I spent the majority of my time cycling through feeling shitty for myself and thinking I was too good to be doing what I was doing. Both of those things led to me probably almost losing the position I was currently in. Thank god the people I work with knew what I was capable of and toughed it out to see me come out the other side because I was an asshole.
It has been about 3 years since I did the work I needed to, to humble myself enough to realize the only failure in my life was due to lack of effort. Having learned this lesson now is why I feel I need to make up for lost time and hope maybe this little piece sets someone in the right space sooner than it did me.
It really boils down to a choice. We often think this choice is around potential but as I pointed out earlier your potential is unreachable for two reasons, either you are not reaching for it or you have realized it is an ever expanding universe for us to explore. The choice we are really making is between long term fulfillment and short term happiness.
In my humble opinion I think convenience and short term happiness have killed more potential and long term fulfillment than anything else in our lives. So it would be awesome if you joined me in the journey to never reaching my potential!