Getting Honest about Your Potential

It’s interesting how there’s really nothing new.  

All high school graduations employ the same cast of characters—the popular ones, the beautiful ones, the athletic ones, the smart ones, the weird ones, the quiet ones.  Watching my daughter cross the stage at her graduation reminded me of my own high school experience, and it got me thinking about a person’s potential.  

Ah, high school

Those simple words are likely to evoke a range of emotions and memories ranging from excitement to nausea. Depending on who you ask, high school is defined as either a battleground where people claw for survival or a kingdom to be surveyed and ruledNo matter what sort of experience you may have had, though, there’s something universal about the experience—high school is a fertile ground for potential.  

Everyone has experienced that utter surprise when you’re told the deadbeat who sat beside you in History is now a venture capitalist for a multi-billion dollar company, or when, conversely, the

Valedictorian with all the prospects becomes a drug addict who’s living in his parents’ basement. The surprise is visceral and stays with you. This is because a person’s potential is important but it’s only one part of the puzzle for success. In high school, kids dream recklessly—they announce they’re going to be doctors and lawyers and astrophysicists with the aplomb of a British royal.

But potential, like high school, brings with it its own baggage. Some people shine when they’re told they have great potential, while others break out into hives and whither.  In business, it’s crucial to understand the potential of a sale or of a client, so in my own life I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject. The way I see it, people experience two lives—the life they believe they’re capable of and the life they actually live.  In order to succeed, I mean really succeed, you must not only reach your potential, but surpass it. Because blog posts are about boiling things down to sound bites and quotes, I’m going to make this part 1of a 3 part series on how to meet (and then exceed) your potential.

Step 1:  Be honest.  

This might be the most difficult part of the puzzle, because, let’s face it, you think you’re hot shit.  This comes out when you apply for jobs way out of your experience level, don’t get the job, then proceed to tell everyone how idiotic everyone at the company is who didn’t hire you. It happens when you play indoor soccer against an All-American and are genuinely surprised and frustrated when he or she absolutely schools you.  Having confidence is important—it’s actually crucial—but you can’t confuse confidence for cockiness. 

Taking stock of your skills, really understanding your capabilities, your strengths, and (you     guessed it) your weaknesses is a significant part of getting real with your potential.  So many times in job interviews I’ve asked candidates to rank their skills on a set of 1-10, and invariably they spout off a host of 8s, 9s, and 10s. If it’s for writing, I’ll then ask, “If Mark Twain or Jane Austen is a 9, what are you?”  Puzzled they’ll sputter, “well, ah, I mean I guess I’m a 3 or a 2 or (God forbid) a 1.” 

So many people have absolutely no concept of what they’re really worth. This happens on both ends of the spectrum and both sides are equally detrimental. Understanding, I mean really understanding what you have to offer is like putting prescription glasses over your 20/8 eyes.  With honesty you’re able to assess when someone short shifts you, when you’re overwhelmed, or when you need to ask for help. Self-assessment is hard, but totally worth it.

I’m not saying you need to constantly compare yourself to the greats, but I am saying you need to really understand what it means to be an 8 or a 9 in your field. If you’re a 5, what are you going to do to bump up a number? This is a tough pill to swallow, because many of us had (and still have) big dreams for our lives. We see ourselves as capable of anything, so when we fall short, it’s a shock. Getting real with your talents allows you to remove the rose colored glasses and see your work for what it’s worth, and then assess how you can improve it. 

I’m excited to continue with this 3 part series, and hope you find it inspiring so that whoever you were in high school, you’re able to achieve a success you can be proud of today.  

What are ways you can get honest with yourself? Do you feel you’ve reached your full potential? Why/why not?