Achieving Your Potential

If a reader asked whether I think I’ve reached my potential, I would answer, “Which one?” My physical potential? “No.” My fame-and-fortune potential? “No.” My contribution-to-mankind potential? “No.” My happiness potential? Well, I sometimes do feel like I’m the happiest person in the world. So maybe I’d answer “yes” to that one. How about you?

Let’s look at this logically: We all have only 24 hours in a day, and you can’t do everything at once. Usually you can’t even do two things at the same time: If you’re at work, you’re not with your family; but if you’re at home, you’re not at the gym; and if you’re riding your bike, you’re not doing volunteer work. In short: You’ve got to choose.

The facts of life: And unless you live alone, what about your spouse and children? They will be greatly affected by your desire to achieve your potential in any one area. In addition, your spouse likely would have to give up his or her own desire in order to accommodate yours.

Reality check #1: So you want to reach your potential in a certain area, but not exactly spend all of your waking hours in the pursuit. Well, understand that there will be plenty of people who will spend all of their time that way, and you’ll be competing with them.

Reality check #2: Realize that your potential may not be what your Mom and Dad encouraged you to believe. For example, if achieving your potential requires favorable judgment by others, you are much less likely to succeed. No matter how qualified you may be to be President, you will be utterly dependent on getting enough votes, nearly all of them from strangers. The same goes for all other public offices. It also goes for selling artwork, getting promotions, and more.

What do you value? The potential you choose should be one that you value most, not one that someone else–such as a spouse or parent–wants you to achieve, or you’ll achieve ulcers or high blood pressure first. Think about these four questions and decide which category comes closest to covering your main interest. Choose only one.

Which potential would you like to achieve most? 1) To make as much money as you possibly can? 2) To attain the highest public office you can? 3) To become famous for the work you do?
4) To help as many people as you can?

What does your choice say about you? The questions represent desires for: 1) gratification; 2) power; 3) approbation; and 4) virtue. The first is natural. The second is intrinsic for some of us. The third is acquired through the process of socialization, and the fourth is mostly instilled.

What to do about it? Consider the category you chose. Are you already trying to achieve your potential? Say you want to make a lot of money: Are you working hard and always looking for an opportunity to increase your earnings or open your own business? If you want to hold public office, are you involved in local government affairs? Maybe you want to be an actor or actress: Are you taking voice lessons or acting classes? If you want to help others, are you busily doing just that at work or perhaps in your spare time?

If so, relax. You’re already trying to be “all you can be.” As long as you continue to work at it, you’ll achieve your potential, although it may not be the goal you had in mind. That’s real life, not the scenario that may have been painted for you in elementary and high school.

But maybe you’re not trying to achieve your potential at all. For example: You want to do good in the world more than anything else, but you’re spending all your time shuffling paperwork at the office, and when you get home, your kids have first priority. What to do? Take just one step toward your dream: In this case, you could go online and search for community service projects for children and families. No matter what kind of goal you want to reach, you’ll be able to head in that direction. And as long as you do, you’ll achieve your potential in the real world.