A lot of people confide that they are depressed or disheartened because they aren't maximizing their potential.
The phrases "I'm sick of being mediocre" and "I was meant to do more" frequently arise in conversation. However, potential is a very overwhelming concept. It personifies the best, no, the perfect version of ourselves. Oftentimes, this idealized version of ourselves seems difficult and unattainable to us because it's someone we hope that we can become someday, just not today. It's almost as if we could place a projector on our head that depicted our future potential self in front of us, but no matter how far we run towards it, it'll still be just out of reach.
Potential' is defined as 'latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.' This implies that our potential is something inherent, that we have a responsibility to reach our full potential and make the most of what we are given. Yet, it is large and abstract enough to scare us, deter us from trying.
For instance, I had a classroom full of kids recently tell me that I should be a rapper because they thought I had pretty awesome 'flow'. They asked me why I hadn't pursued my dreams because they could see my potential. When a group of kids are telling you that you should have done something else with your life, isn't that great? However, when that happened, suddenly we have an image of Jay's future self as Jay the Billboard Top 40 Rapper. We immediately contrast that with today, where Jay is not rapping at all and think about ALL of the tasks and hours needed to get there. Instead of being something that is inspiring and motivating, becoming a rapper turns into more of a wistful thought.
I see the same thing happen time and time again when people hear that I run half marathons and marathons. For people who are fairly athletic, there's a slight nod of mutual respect for trying to achieve a difficult accomplishment. However, for people who don't see themselves as fit at all, the conversation becomes entirely different. These unfit people will usually exclaim "Wow, 21.5 kilometres? That's more than I'll walk in a year!" To which I might say something like "Oh, yes, the half-marathons are long, but they're very doable with the proper training. In fact, you could probably do one by next year with the right planning. There's the potential for anyone to do a half-marathon!"
At this point, the dichotomy of the present self meets the image of a future marathon runner, thinks about the difference between the state of their body now and where it should be, and completely shuts down. "Oh, I can see how you can run those distances because of your slim build, but I could never do that" They lament, pushing their potential self off to one side.
That's a bunch of nonsense.
Of course, you can run a half-marathon if you planned for it.
However, our potential becomes our barrier.
If our potential becomes our barrier, is there any other way of dealing with improving ourselves?
The Other Way
What if, instead of seeking to reach your full potential, you simply sought to fulfill your capacity?
The word capacity is defined as "the ability or power to do, experience, or understand something." Notice how different the words 'potential' and 'capacity' are.
With potential, one must somehow unlock a latent ability.
With capacity, one simply must execute on an ability they already have.
Continuing within the running example (sorry, it's easiest since I'm a runner), you could simply ask them if they've ever run, or how much they've run before.
Most people can manage 2-3km, even if they're just walking.
In high school, it was one of our long runs, so it's not too much of a challenge.
It sure seems a heck of a lot easier than running 21.5km.
Let's say they want to commit to half-marathon, but are too intimidated by the distance.
An alternative approach is to get their mind off of the potential of running 21.5km and instead invite them to go on a 3km jog every second weeknight, which is enough to give them the confidence to work within their current capacity. Inform them that the plan is to simply increase that capacity slowly each week.
This is why most marathoners train with a running schedule.
It's not about reaching their potential, it's about incrementally increasing their capacity to run long distances week after week.
Words are everything, so how you frame situations is how they affect your perspective.
Consider these other alternative ways of framing things
- opportunity instead of challenge
- situation instead of problem
- concern instead of objection
- doable instead of difficult
- learning instead of failing
What other better ways of framing things can you think of?