Releasing the Burden of “Potential”

There are several things I fear: getting sick, experiencing rejection and losing loved ones, for starters. But more so than these, I’m afraid of wasting potential: of never becoming who I’m meant to be or achieving all the things expected of me. It’s difficult to admit, but I don’t think I’m alone in this. After all, haven’t we all at some point been told we “have potential,” that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to and do whatever we dream?

For the most part, this is true. We all have potential to some degree or another, but the problem with having potential is that we never quite know when we’ve fulfilled it… which, at least from personal experience, leaves us feeling unsatisfied and searching for more. It creates a tension between knowing that we have abilities to offer the world, and wondering if those abilities will ever come to fruition.

Instead of taking time to pause and celebrate that we are living our once hoped-for futures, we become caught up in the idea that, no matter what or how much we do, there are always infinite possibilities for more.

It’s an exhausting mindset to be in. So how do we release this burden that unfulfilled potential creates?

Our friends, relatives, culture, etc. send us endless messages about what, how and who we should be. So perhaps the first step is just to ask ourselves, “Who, besides us, can tell us what our potential is, or who we’re supposed to be?” And, “Who are we afraid of disappointing if we don’t reach our ‘potential’?” Chances are, most of the pressures we feel compelled to live up to are not our own ideations. I mean, who told us we’re not enough as we are? That we have to have a “meaningful” job in order to have a meaningful life? Or that we need to excel in X, Y and/or Z in order to be considered a success?

In the end, we are the authors of our own lives. So, what kind of stories do we want to write? If we want to change the narrative we’ve been told, then it’s up to us to do so. And, as we do, we must take into account that we are not called to be perfect; but rather, called to love… and love cannot be seen or measured.

With that in mind, let’s start digging into the present moment and focusing on the possibilities and blessings at hand. Dwelling on past missed opportunities, or fearing future ones, belittles both ourselves and our work. Life isn’t about reaching certain milestones and markers, but about making the most of the journey. And if we focus too much on the end goal, we miss out on that journey and the opportunities to love right in front of us.

In the words of author Robert Louis Stevenson, let us remember: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

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