Three steps cover most of what is needed to discover and then make full use of your potential:
- Exploration of options, strengths, and weaknesses, in depth and without haste.
- Patient removal of blockages.
- Long-term, continuous development and learning.
The first step increases your self-awareness and gets beyond superficial judgments about strengths and weaknesses. You mustn’t simply jog along and let your automatic habits take the strain, or you’ll become narrow and parochial, priding yourself on knowledge in some limited area and ignoring your ignorance of the rest of the world. If you look at yourself dispassionately, and listen without judgment and defensiveness to what others say, you’ll see quickly what is presently in the way of further progress. Then you can work to broaden your mind and increase the range and breadth of your options. Potential is always open, expansive, and inclusive. Narrow opinions that disdain the wider context will never lead to potential. Usually they lead to foolishness.
Before you start, check though these basic assumptions behind the work you need to do to realize your potential:
- In nearly all situations, something works. Don’t waste time wishing things were different. Where you are is where you start. Build on what works already.
- Whatever you focus on expands and grows. Focusing on gifts expands them. Focusing on weaknesses makes you weaker, more miserable, and less able to cope.
- Your choices, whether they are made consciously or not, always affect your future. Making choices consciously is common sense.
- Potential is always based on adding to options, broadening viewpoints, and increasing competence. Realizing your potential always demands learning. Make learning a lifetime activity.
- Automatic habits are constrictive. They close you down, narrow your options, and limit your perspectives. They encourage you to repeat the past, whether or not it still works for you. If you carry parts of yourself into the future, they should only be the best parts.
- Potential is not fixed. It arises where present and future possibilities intersect with the willingness and skill to choose between them. Forget the nonsense about “you either have it or you don’t.”
- Improvising is the surest sign of potential on the move. It isn’t indicative of some lack of basic ability. Not knowing is a better place to begin than assuming you know and then being proven wrong.
Along the way, you should take careful note of any habits that appear to block your progress or throw you off course. Blockages like these shouldn’t make you feel guilty or self-critical. Simply note each blockage carefully and let it go. Drop it. Step past it and move on. You may have to do this a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand times, but in the end the habit will go away for good. That will be a famous victory.
Don’t waste time and effort on trying to deal with weaknesses that are not blockages to potential. Do not worry about areas where there is little strength on which to build. It takes great energy and determination to improve from completely awful to solidly mediocre; maybe three or four times—even ten times—what it would take to go from good to great. Do you really want to work hard at becoming mediocre? Forget struggling to improve your natural weaknesses—beyond doing just enough to stop them spoiling your strengths. Forget trying to be perfect in every way. It’s impossible. Work to be the best possible version of yourself, even if that isn’t what you expected or the folks around you ordered. Anything else will condemn you to a lifetime of wasted effort and unsatisfied dreams.
Potential is in the how, not in the what. It is the how that determines whether you can do the what to the standard required. It is the how that you can take to different fields of work, if you decide to move on and explore other fields of work. And as for satisfaction, the what may be the external measure of success, but it is the how that got you there and provided your internal satisfaction and enjoyment.