Full Potential: A Myth?

We often hear the phrase “reaching their full potential.” Full potential is a myth that’s too easily bought into with the unfortunate result that we limit our potential to what we know or what we’re good at.

Potential is unknown

Who among us knows what our full potential is? I know that I don’t. As I’ve gotten older and looked back at some of the things I’ve accomplished I realize that I could not have envisioned being involved in these efforts when I was in my youth.

My awareness of these potentialities surfaced during my life’s journey. Along with them came an interest and a passion for becoming proficient in these areas of interest. As I reflect on my earlier days I realize that there were many other opportunities that didn’t capture my interest enough for me to devote time and energy to learning more about them. Who knows what potential I might have realized if I’d been passionate enough to pursue them?

This brings us to the second reason why “full potential” is a myth: potential increases over time.

Potential grows

With age and experience our potential grows. We gain knowledge and we see how to apply that knowledge to a broad array of situations. In other words, our experience enables us to see connections between what we previously thought were separate and distinct situations.

With each new experience and each new insight our potential increases. Often that leads to a desire to explore something foreign to our everyday activities. It’s one of the reasons why we see older adults exploring career choices completely different than the ones in which they’ve been involved for decades.

Despite their lack of background or experience in their new field of choice, they are assured success because they are following their passion. It’s their passion that makes learning what they need to know fun and exciting for them. Plus they have the added advantage of confidence based upon earlier successes.

Another way to look at potential is as a byproduct of desire. The greater the desire we possess for whatever interests us, the greater the success we’ll enjoy in pursuit of that interest. Each success increases our potential.

So what does this mean for you?

For you

Do not limit your potential by assuming you’ve reached your full potential. Whenever you feel that you’ve reached the pinnacle of whatever you do, or find that it’s no longer fun, remind yourself that you have the potential to master whatever intrigues you…then pursue it.

Remind yourself of the excitement and joy you experienced when you embarked upon your current endeavors. Recall how your passion fueled the amount of time and energy you put into learning more and more about what you were doing…and how that assured your success.

Then apply these memories to exploring what intrigues you now. The passion you feel will assure that you are equally, if not more, successful in your new endeavor. In other words, realize that none of us knows what potential we possess, but we do know that potential grows with age and experience.

For our kids

Whenever you hear someone speaking of helping a child reach their full potential, share the following thoughts with them:

  • Just because potential exists doesn’t mean that desire exists as well. Over the years we’ve each found that we have strengths that represent potential, but we have no desire to utilize these strengths in ways others envision for us.
  • Full potential is unknown to any of us because our interests and passions change over time. As new interests surface, our potential increases as well.
  • Potential grows over time as we begin to see new ways of employing what we’ve learned to new, seemingly disparate issues or activities.

When you hear a child being told that they should pursue a career because of the tremendous potential they have, ask them how interested they are in pursuing that path. If they say they are interested but their demeanor doesn’t exhibit the excitement that normally accompanies their claim, let them know that potential doesn’t assure success; passion does. Let them know that it’s okay not to pursue a career just because the potential exists…that, indeed, they possess potential in many areas, but the ones in which they’ll find their greatest joy and success in is those that they are passionate about. They’ll thank you for these insights.

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