The myth of potential: on reaching versus tapping into it

Potential does not need to be realised, it’s just there to be unleashed.

The notion of reaching one’s potential is pervasive in the mainstream discourse about it means to succeed. Unrealised potential seems to be the worst nightmare of the modern world. What we could be is not getting materialised into what we are.

The allure of running towards reaching our imagined potential is understandable.

As human beings, we are merely trying to narrow the gap between our capabilities and what we actually achieve in the world. There is also a noble dimension in wanting to reach our potential, in the form of having the impact we know we can have in the world. Why should our lives to go to waste?

Yet, the idea of reaching one’s potential also hides a darker dynamic.

Constantly striving to reach a future end state inevitably leaves us unsatisfied with the present. This is accompanied by the impression that there is one true version of potential that we can reach. This often brings about an additional pressure of making the ‘right’ life decisions to optimise our arrival in the promised land of realised potential.

So, how can we keep these good intentions while taking some of the pressure off?

A useful distinction for a gentler, and wiser, perspective on potential: reaching potential vs. tapping into potential.

Reaching potential means constantly striving to reach an outwardly version of ourselves. Tapping into potential means digging inwardly to create things in the world.

Potential is an infinite deeper resource that we can use, not an ideal we have to work towards. The game of life is less about becoming someone, and more about wisely mobilising our resources to do what matters to us.

Potential does not need to be realised, it is just there to be unleashed.

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Coach — Career and Work Transformation | PhD Researcher | Facilitator

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