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How Undermining Our Potential Undermines Our Future

What is potential...

According to Merriam-Webster, potential is: "existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality."

That sounds pretty accurate to me and I have no reason not to believe Ms. Webster. I mean she does, after all, know like 10 billion different words and definitions, give or take a few. I too believe that if our potential is to be reached, we also need to see what isn’t obvious in the basic understanding of the word. How I interpret the definition is like this: something potent that we possess that has the possibility to benefit us and others that can be realized and utilized when developed.

Hmm... something potent. Something powerful! Something alluring! Something that with great effort can be discovered, developed, refined and quantified to profit the world. Though the analogy of diamonds and potential has been used many times before, it doesn’t make it any less true or poignant today.

It takes considerable time for a diamond to come into existence. Not to mention heat and pressure. Something with extraordinary value can’t be manufactured in such a way as snapping our fingers. The same can be said about potential. Your potential is the most valuable resource you possess and, just like diamonds, can go undiscovered.

There are a couple different ways potential can be discovered. Sometimes, we stumble upon a talent that we never knew we had. Like being invited by a friend to try out a free painting class at a local gallery and the first time the brush hits the canvas you paint the Mona Lisa. Okay, well it might not be a masterpiece, but you see something forming, like an idea, which spawns the desire to go further. You put in hours of practice, scrutinizing every shape and shade, maturing your control and vision with every brush stroke and push towards perfection with a bent to inspire the masses. All while fostering a belief that something out of reach can soon find a place in your hand. Without belief in one’s self, and the persistent push to foster our potential, our talent becomes nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of what could have been.

Oftentimes, the potential in us is seen and nurtured by a coach or a teacher. Which I like to call the Mentor Effect. Think for a minute that you’re the landowner of your potential, but you lack the skills and knowledge to produce anything you're able to use and grow. Then, someone comes along that not only has the skill to plant, nurture, and harvest the land but the foresight to see something more than an empty lot of weeds. Because of what they know, they help you tap into a reservoir of potential, watering your talent to its fullest and lush design. The incredible thing about having a mentor is that there isn’t a need to shoot in the dark. Someone who has the experience to walk us through the learning process intercedes and through their presence gives us a sense of security, belief and greater accountability moving towards our potential.

But even so, it’s important to remember this old adage, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t get it to drink.” A mentor can teach you all they know but it takes the person to apply, and practice with rigorous intent, focus, and self-discipline to squeeze all the potential from their talent. For either of these paths of realizing and reaching our potential to become fulfilled, several things must happen and this gets us back to our original analogy.

Time + Pressure + Heat = Fulfilled Potential

Time: The author Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, Outliers, to master any given skill or talent it takes 10,000 hours. Wait... what!!! That seems like an awful long time and that’s because it is. But like any good thing that is worth working for, you can’t just snap your fingers or wave a wand, saying the magic words and expect that you’ll become, a great carpenter, painter, computer programmer, or football player overnight. Time involves planning and preparation, refining and practicing until the welder of said talent is able to apply their gift with grace and precision--sharing a unique view that allows others to observe, absorb and appreciate the gift you have grown.

Pressure: Setting deadlines and making goals is a great way to add pressure in an attempt to extract our potential. I can say that I want to write a book but a goal without a timeframe to achieve it, applies to me only one thing--I don’t believe in myself enough to attach any type of expectation that opens the door for failure to enter the equation. Expectations for some odd reason to me have been labeled a bad thing or taboo. I believe that as a society we have done everything we can to soften the blow of failure for our youth but in doing so, have hamstrung their potential. We have valued caution over adventure. But without exploration, our potential runs the risk of never being discovered, leaving our talent to remain dormant and hidden from the world. For greatness to take form, we must first face and overcome the fear born from the potential of failure.

Heat: The idea of allowing others to pick apart a piece of writing or critique something like a song that came from the most sincere and authentic place in our soul seems off-putting, scary and even nauseating. Speaking from experience having presented both writings and pieces of music to be looked over with a fine tooth comb and listened to with a discerning critical ear, nothing is more nerve-racking than waiting for the impending judgement to be ruled down from on high. At least, that’s what it can seem like. That all your future creative endeavors hang in the balance, waiting and hoping for the vaunted thumbs up. The reality is that we don’t always get the response that we hope for but we usually get the one we need the most. With every thumbs down, it provides feedback and needed critique to burn away the rough edges and the remaining grim. It’s what makes a diamond precious: the heat of refinement.

The process of unlocking our potential is not always perfect and at times it can be down right humbling. As a matter of fact, it's usually riddled with imperfections and deep complexities that require our vigilance and complete, undivided devotion to the truth. Because there will be days that you feel like a failure, and you’ll have to ask yourself the question: "did I give all that was required for my potential to materialize?" In that moment, honesty must prevail.

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