I have a love hate relationship with the word “potential”. It seems such a good concept right? It should invite openness to growth and the desire to live up to the best we can be. I certainly don’t want to perform at less than my potential. That would feel like I’m failing.
However, I admit I have some challenges with what it means to have potential and what it takes to reach it.
1. The first is not knowing what my potential is. Is potential limitless or do I need to be realistic about where my potential lies and to what extent do I have this potential? Realistically, I have zero potential in becoming a professional singer. Actually even a shower singer is a stretch for me!
More seriously, could I be pushing myself too hard believing I can achieve something when it’s actually out of my reach? This question assumes that there is some lid on our potential. But we see example after example of people of all ages and backgrounds and in a vast range of endeavours going beyond previous barriers proving that as human beings our potential is as great as we want it to be.
2. Potential implies a gap between current reality and future achievement. The Oxford dictionary defines potential as “having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future.” So you could get there, but you’re not there yet. For a small word yet can entail a pretty big leap. A leap that will involve hard work, perseverance and this slippery concept — self-belief or confidence.
Reaching our potential is not automatic or achieved by the wave of a magic wand. It is just the opening of a gate or the revealing of a pathway. You have to do the work of getting to the end. This is not a problem, as long as you realize it.
There is hope in believing in your potential. Knowing you have potential is meant to encourage and affirm, holding out the promise of what is possible. But it is untapped unless the road is actually walked.
3. Potential has the promise of purpose but it can also be a hard taskmaster. Because potential is fulfilled in the future it draws you forward. You seek ways to make it true and so it shapes your actions and character.
But if this is tinged with perfectionism, it can feel as if you will never get it right. Getting to the point at which you can say you are done somehow always feels out of reach. Living up to the potential others see in you or you believe you have keeps you keeping on. It can feel relentless at times but it is also what motivates you to persevere.
An interesting idea — potential. We all have it. The question of what we do with it is up to us. It is not an easy course but there are moments when you reach some pinnacle of achievement where your potential is demonstrated to its full value and you can celebrate. Then you wake up the next day and continue moving in the direction of developing more of your incredible potential.