Are you one of those people whose grade school report cards consistently said you weren’t meeting ‘your potential’? You’re not alone. Working to the level you’re capable of challenges all aspects of your life, personal and professional. But 'potential' is a moving target and depends on many factors. It’s an ambiguous minefield set to standards often not of your making.
potential is not one-size fits all
The phrase ‘living up to your potential’ is deceiving because it suggests there’s only one thing you’re good at or should be working towards, when, in fact, there are a limitless number of things you could do to varying degrees of success. Toss in the finite number of years we have in which to work and we’re down to a very short list of career options and life choices. Living up to your potential can only take place within that limited number of options. Your ‘true’ potential – if there is such a thing – likely lies outside the options available to you. And that’s just in the world of work. What about your potential as a parent, partner, son or daughter, or volunteer to name a few?
find meaning in what you do
Working to achieve your ‘true potential’ is only successful if it brings meaning, satisfaction and a sense of achievement. You may have been a science whiz at school, focused on becoming a brain surgeon, but for whatever reason – finances, or circumstances outside your control – your dream has fallen short. Do you consider yourself a failure and prevent yourself from feeling accomplished or joyful in any other career? Or do you practice what experts call altering your preferences? It’s up to you to set expectations for yourself. Sometimes finding new meaning is the way forward.
learn to pivot and adapt
Learn to adapt when life throws you a curve ball. Maybe you aren’t cut out to become a world-renowned scientist who cures cancer. But perhaps you can apply your scientific brain and studies to another field, and from which you can derive satisfaction and pride. Maybe you’d make a great nurse, helping care for others. In other words, you can choose to be happy and find a new direction, even if you’re not following the path you once hoped you would. You may not achieve what you expected, but if you’re happy and fulfilled with your new direction, that’s what matters.
choose your own path
There’s more than one way to find your calling. Forget trying to fit in a narrow box. Relax. Breathe. Stop harshly judging yourself and start creating opportunities to build confidence. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. Focus on being the best version of yourself instead of fixating on achieving your full potential; otherwise, you’ll be distracted and your ability to enjoy life and the choices you make along the way will be limited if not impeded.
The beauty of life is our ability to evolve, change and grow. To stagnate is neither life- nor career-affirming. By staying open to multiple opportunities you’re actually realizing potential you never knew you had. Ironically, by not focusing on reaching your full potential, you may actually reach your true potential. And be happy while you do it.