The Pitfalls of Potential

Potential is great. 

Potential can also be pretty problematic. 

Potential is defined as: having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future.

The downside of something positive has it’s pitfalls, you see potential isn’t concrete, you can’t hold it. 

Really and truly potential is: a hope, a desire, a wish, an ideal. 

Ultimately, it’s a what if.

Potential is a great indicator of what could be, but potential isn’t a predictor of what is to come.  

Potential is based on outcomes of the past and the past doesn’t mean a prediction of the future. 

Potential can be based on a single great moment and as a consequence there is a lot of excitement, hype and buzz around this particular achievement. The ego can’t help but feel a little inflated and suddenly the bar has been raised. There is now a new standard. By the way, none of this is bad and great things should be celebrated. But there is a flip side to all of this, which is what I want you to be mindful of.

This newfound potential can easily skew perceptions of reality, make things glossy and muddles up clarity. I say this because you have shown yourself (and others) what you are capable of. And it’s pretty hard not to feel like you have to attain this new standard every time you perform. Whether it’s sports, music, science, art or anything you are striving towards, you now have a new idea of what you consider to be good, and anything less than is likely to be perceived as an under performance or even a failure. I’m writing this from my personal experience and I’m not speaking for everyone, however I am certain that a few people can relate. I think it’s natural to raise the bar especially as you’ve proven that you can.

I remember the year after World Youth’s I thought, if I didn’t run a personal best or close to it every time I competed, then the race simply wasn’t good enough and I needed to do better. Listen, it’s been 8 years since then and if I still thought like that I would be in deep trouble. As you can imagine that way of thinking wasn’t sustainable nor healthy and I definitely would have burned out.

The Pitfalls of Potential 

So when the potential is “unfulfilled” what happens next? 

The individual is likely to be left with: low mood states, anxious thoughts, feeling like a failure, self – doubt, loss of identity, afraid to try again and even worthlessness.

Did I fail because I was unable to be at my absolute best every time I attempted to do so?

Of course not.

It took me a little while to realise that failing is just a teaching moment. And the only time people really fail is when they have been dishonest about their efforts toward achieving said thing. 

I am sharing this post because I have spoken with quite a lot of young people recently and it has encouraged me to reflect on what I would remind my younger self, myself today and anyone for that matter; which is the following:

  • Life will surprise you. 
  • The future isn’t predictable.
  • What you can’t control, but try to control is a recipe for suffering.
  • Enjoy the buzz around your achievement but try your best not to get consumed by it.
  • What you have demonstrated today doesn’t automatically mean you will demonstrate it tomorrow.
  • Focus on the here and now.
  • Understand that your potential is only as good as what you are doing right now to fulfill it. 
  • Show up and do what you can, to be the best you can be.
  • Be mindful that nothing is guaranteed.

The Answer is To Be Present

As I always say the past is gone, the future is yet to come and the present is the only moment you can truly operate from.

Every single thing you do can only be done right now. Deal with what’s directly in front of you, not on what’s happened before or what you think will happen later.  

And now what?

Self – examination is key in developing self – awareness.

Get comfortable asking yourself questions and be honest with the answers.

I will repeat it again, all you can do is exist in the here and now and handle life as it unfolds, by all means prepare for the future to an extent and use the past as a moment of learning. Success looks different to every single one one of us, and even then, what success looks like today will probably look a bit different to you in a year or so. We all travel different paths, so own your journey and embrace all that comes with it.

Be kind to yourself and keep in the forefront of your mind that, what is delayed is not denied. 🙂

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