“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot
POTENTIAL. What a wistful, fantastic, cursing, disappointing, and utterly pregnant word!
I have spent much of my life pondering this loaded concept. Many times have I thought or written, “The thing that saddens me most is wasted potential.” It has always broken my heart to see people settle or “underachieve” what I believed their potential to be (as though I had any right to be the judge of such things). I have, no doubt, written many times about it in my journal.
Here is one such instance, a small piece of a long entry I wrote one rainy night in Spain way back in 1997. I had been carrying on about how sometimes goals don’t push me but rather serve as limits to my growth, and I made the link as follows:
“It is all about what is possible. It leads to, or perhaps is the same as, the discussion of potential. In fact it is the same. There is that saying that God’s gift to you is your talent or potential, and your gift back to God is what you do with it. The saddest thing in the world is wasted potential (a.k.a. wasted gifts, wasted talent). I speak of this at every level, from mathematics to the ability to love to being the one to lead the big change in the world towards salvation. We must never settle! Never! That is the greatest tragedy. It pains my soul to see it. I see a girl like Marty in Beautiful Girls or Leah, and I just want to grab ahold of them and shake them, and simply say, “Never settle. There is so much inside of you. Do not be less than you can be.” It is everywhere, but I can see it in the girls of North Dakota, never seeing past the high school boyfriend, never giving themselves a chance. The tragedy. I hate to conjure that look of dead eyes in a woman that once had such a propensity for life. We must never settle!”
I have been pretty passionate about this idea over the years. I think that is what drew me to Life Coaching. You see, people don’t come to a Life Coach to be healed or fixed or made whole again. They don’t need all of their problems solved. No, they arrive whole and say, in essence, “I want to be my best. Let’s partner up to get me there!” That makes my heart jump.
Of course, the person on whom I have spent by far the most time and energy pondering, assessing, diagnosing, prescribing, monitoring, consoling, encouraging, and journaling about is myself. Like most people, I am probably my harshest critic. But, I am also the person I look to—usually via my journal—as the last one to believe in me and my potential when it feels like everyone else has forgotten or lost interest.
I have always believed that I have tremendous potential. I have daydreamed the biggest dreams of all for myself, things like truly saving the world with my ideas and actions. I have believed, at least once upon a time, that that power was in me.
Well, the bigger they are, the harder they fall! As I said, with great gifts come great responsibilities. Because I believed I had such magnificent gifts, my disappointment in myself—not to mention the guilt and shame—in not having made much of an impact on the world has been quite profound. I cannot believe, sometimes, how far off-track I have gone from where I once seemed to be heading. It is, when I take the time to fully consider it, quite disheartening. I have failed to honor my gifts by not using them to their fullest good. I have—shame of all shames—not lived up to my potential.
If you are at all like me and are wishing you would have done better, I have something to tell us both today:
It’s not over, friend! It isn’t. It is just starting, actually. Right now. In this beautiful moment. You have the amazing opportunity to start fresh and be better. No, not just better. You can be the person you have always—or even just once upon a time—imagined yourself to be. Look, I am not saying you are going to fly to the moon or play in the NBA; some dreams are time-specific, and you can actually miss your window. That stinks, I get it. But you are not too late for most things. Not even the DOING things. Want to learn the guitar (I do!)? Want to learn to speak Italian? Want to be better at your job? Want to get trained for a new job? Almost anything you can think of, you can still do. I wanted to have written several books by now. I haven’t. That’s disappointing, sure. But it’s not a death sentence. I still want to write them. So, I am using my failure up to this point to motivate me to be more focused going forward. Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” So get up, acknowledge that you haven’t hit every shot so far, and get focused on what you are going to be starting NOW. Notice I said “be.” Like I said, you can still DO most anything, too. You can start today, and things will still take lots of time and persistence. And there is value in the striving, of course. But the thing that is definitely yours for the taking in this very moment is your BEING. No matter how you have been so far in your life—selfish, impatient, unforgiving, greedy, unfocused, undisciplined, mean, weak, timid, insecure, afraid—you can choose to BE better and achieve it instantly. It is not as easy as it sounds—you have to KEEP choosing it over and over and over—but it is that simple. JUST CHOOSE TO BE HOW YOU WANT TO BE, AND KEEP CHOOSING IT. That is self-improvement. The DOING stuff will follow; I guarantee it. Imagine how choosing to be BRAVE would translate in your life. How would FORGIVING look on you? Picture yourself KIND. Try on AUTHENTIC (I love that one!). You can be what you see! Choose to be. This itself is an act of courage. But it is the greatest gift you will ever give yourself. So do it. Be courageous. Stand up for the greatness that you KNOW is inside you. Stop playing small. Sure, own your shortcomings. But don’t let them own you. Own your past. Just don’t live there. The old stuff doesn’t define you. YOU get to do that, starting now. And with every NOW that shows up, you get to redefine. So, make sure you define yourself as amazingly as you really are. Name it and claim it. It is time to play a bigger game. And the game starts NOW!!!
Okay, I admit that it feels much better to think about my life that way than it does when I lose myself in disappointment and regret for all I haven’t been and done. It is probably time to take my own advice. After all, despite my disappointment in my past, I truly have never stopped believing there is greatness in me. I think it is time that I rise to it. Better late than never!
How about you? How have you done so far in relation to your potential? Open up your journal and start with a little report card of your life to this point compared to the expectations you had for it. Have you done the things you believed you could or should do? Have you been the kind of person you believed you would be? What things have you lived up to? Where have you fallen short? Of what are you most disappointed in yourself? Did you feel like you were one of the people I addressed my message to? Can you let the past go? Now, change gears. Write about your potential. What kinds of things do you see yourself doing? If your best self showed itself, what characteristics would you have? How different would that feel to you? Try them on! Imagine the feelings. How is it? Do you feel elevated? Happier? Do you believe that you have the power to choose those characteristics in this moment? Are you ready to make that choice? How much better do you choose to be? How excited are you about all of this? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to bloom?
Own your magnificence,
P.S. If today’s message resonated with you, I am so glad! Please pass it on. Let’s bloom together!!!