“You cannot afford to live in potential for the rest of your life; at some point, you have to unleash the potential and make your move.” – Eric Thomas
Reality can limit potential. That’s life. But potential has very little to do with being your best and putting your life on its best trajectory. This doesn’t mean pretending limits and obstacles don’t exist. It’s about not letting limits demoralize us or stall out our lives.
Our idea of potential changes as we age, and the reality of it does too. When you’re 5 and people say, “You can be anything!” they’re mostly right. No one tells a 40-yr-old that for good reason.
When potential hits a wall, the realist might see this as a full stop. “I was a dancer, I split my ankle in half, my career is over.” But the optimist sees the other reality that must be acknowledged — the one where your personal, optimal trajectory is filled with vast positivity and possibility. The optimist sees the limit, but still hits the gas.
This is because our potential lies between what is and what could be. As such, your life, at any age or stage, still has nearly unlimited potential. Not unlimited meaning ALL possibilities are possible, but unlimited in a sense that there really is a never-ending and infinite amount of possibility remaining. You can’t let the elimination of a few options render you powerless to pursue one of the seemingly endless versions of your ideal existence.
As Arthur Ashe says, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Facing down closed doors or unrealized past potential is painful, but here’s the thing… it’s actually a gift. No, really. Harsh realities about our own diminished potential in life force us out of future-focused expectations and into the moment. They remove our attachment to idealized outcomes and bring us back to our values and a wider perspective.
For example, you wanted to write a best selling novel by age 45 and it didn’t happen. Now you’re 46. But take a moment to consider what you really wanted. Did you want a book published or did you want to be a writer? Reality brings you back to the present moment, the journey, and the potential that is waiting to be unleashed. It forces you to re-evaluate your priorities, values, and what’s to come.
Obstacles and failures reorient us, so we can see what tools we do have for accomplishing at-hand tasks that fulfill us and move us forward. It’s true — a dance injury may rob you of a profitable career in dance, but that doesn’t mean the world of dance is closed off to you. If you value dancing each day or working in the dance world, you can make it happen in a different way. In fact, in a vast multitude of different ways.
Stand where you are right now, look around, and ask yourself:
- What has stopped me from achieving my dreams?
- What values and desires are behind these idealized ways of living?
- What is my optimal life trajectory moving forward?
- How can I do something, today, right now, to step forward down this path?
You cannot be “anything” any longer, but as Pope John XXIII once said, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”