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Living Up To Your Potential

by Miki Saxon

To get the most out of this post you need to read the prelude to it. It starts with Becky Robinson’s birthday musings that formed the basis of my post Monday and the comments that led to today’s topic. (Please read them if you haven’t already.)

We hear all the time about ‘living up to our potential’.

I know that every time I didn’t do what someone thought I should, I heard about my potential. It became the club-of-choice used by teachers and family to push me, but I don’t take well to being pushed and my reaction was to dig in my heels.

The same ‘club’ had a different effect on many others and became a driving force in their lives.

Different MAP, different reaction.

I didn’t give it much thought until I was in my early twenties and a friend killed himself. The note he left is one of those things you never forget.

“I’m sorry. No matter how hard I try I can’t seem to do what you want. I keep being told to live up to my potential, but no one tells me what that is or what it means. I don’t know how to do it and nothing I tried seems to bring me any closer. This is easier, I won’t have to try any more.”

My friend was a straight A student, cum laude high school grad, full scholarship to a top university, etc., yet he was still being chased with that club.

I’m not suggesting that potential should be quantified because that would limit it, but living up to it shouldn’t be a club or a judgment—it should be an encouragement and incentive.

I read once that the past is a series of paintings that can’t be changed, while the future is a blank canvas on which we dream, but the present is within our grasp.

I believe that each day is a blank canvas; if you live it to its fullest, doing everything as well as possible within the power of who-you-are-today, then your pasts will hold many positive accomplishments, good memories and far more learning experiences than regrets.

To this day, I still hear the potential club, but no outsider can know whether I’ve lived up to mine.

In my response to Becky I said, “Life is about choices; when you look at how far you’ve come you have the choice to see errors or learning experiences; to congratulate yourself on what you did or beat yourself up over what you didn’t.”

I stopped beating myself up the day my friend died, but I didn’t stop striving.

Again, it’s about how you choose to view your past, present and future.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: futurowoman on flickr

5 Responses to “Living Up To Your Potential”
  1. Beth MillerNo Gravatar Says:

    This all comes down to how you choose to live, optimistically or pessimistically. It is about choice and for those who are more wired to view things in a negative light the choice can often be a challenge. When I work with leaders focused more on the negative, the challenge is to get them to open their eyes to more options then what they initially see.

    If you are a pessimist, challenge yourself to take a look for more alternatives than the ones that initially pop into your head and ask your optimistic friends for help in changing your thought process. Ask yourself: what is reality and what proof do you have that it is reality?

  2. Becky RobinsonNo Gravatar Says:

    Well said, Miki.

    Two things stand out to me from this post.

    First the idea that living up to potential can be an “encouragement and incentive.” That makes a lot of sense. It is easy for me to get undone by people’s vague expectations and definitions of success. What I want to be doing, and I stated it in the original post, is trailblazing my own path — defining success on my own terms. Yet even fulfilling my own goals and expectations is quite difficult at times.

    The second thing that stands out to me is this: “doing everything as well as possible within the power of who-you-are-today.” You have it exactly right, Miki. I can only be who I am today, and it is pointless to try to be anyone else.

    Thanks so much for this follow up post, and for giving me more to think about.

  3. Becky RobinsonNo Gravatar Says:

    Also, I am so sorry about your friend. I can’t imagine losing someone in that way. It seems like it has been a powerful force in your life. I am glad that you have found a way to view your past, present, and future in a way that frees you to be who you are.

  4. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Beth, that is one way to look at it, but to me it’s more a question of who defines you than how you are defined. If you allow yourself to be defined by others then you are more likely to allow others to define what you’re accomplishing.

    As to reality, I’ve always believed that the only reality is the one we perceive. You are right that we can change our perceptions, such as moving from pessimist to optimist, but I don’t believe that there are any absolutes out there. We will still perceive the world through our own MAP no matter how much we choose to change it.

    And thanks for taking time to add to the conversation!

  5. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Becky, Remember that it’s also pointless, not to mention unfair, to judge, who-you-are-today by who-you become in the future.

    Jim’s death brought my resistance to allowing others to define me to a conscious level and substantially reinforced it. Sadly, it had the opposite effect on others in his circle.

    I totally agree with the effort to define yourself on your own terms, I did the same and wrote about it in How To Be An Original. Sinatra says it best in My Way

    For what is a man, what has he got?
    If not himself, then he has naught.
    To say the things he truly feels;
    And not the words of one who kneels.
    The record shows I took the blows –
    And did it my way!

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