Toxic Potential

You’ve been cursed. You’ve been damned to a never-ending stream of criticism; doomed to feel less-than and not enough. A bar has been set that will never be reached, but always in view. The scoundrel doing this to you is your “potential”. It actually feels like a compliment when you first hear it. “You have such great potential!” You perk up and feel excited, filled with a sense of hidden power and resource. “I have potential!” but what does that actually mean?

Isn’t it really a statement that “you could be so much more than you are…”? It automatically starts unfair comparisons in your head, and a sense that you’re not doing enough. The struggle begins. “I must be more. I must live up to my potential! I’ll try as hard as I can to get to this place of my potential!” A new rivalry has been created, and the competition is the imaginary “you” that you should already be.

Try telling it to a cow: “You have great potential!” See if they care. Tell the birds that they can fly higher than they do. But tell a human, and they go through a series of reactions, from pride, to curiosity, to determination, to struggle. Ultimately they arrive at a feeling of not being content within themselves.  

What if we choose a different way to speak to ourselves? What if we start with the premise that “You are enough, exactly the way you are!” Some would argue that we will not be motivated or will become lethargic, but ask any kindergarten teacher and they will tell you that this is an incredibly important and uplifting message. It is a message that encourages us to show more, to try more and ultimately, to do more.

How we speak to ourselves and each other matters deeply. Instead of damning someone with the vagaries of their potential, how about empowering them with the gift of self-affirming acceptance. “You are everything you need to be in order to do anything in the world that you choose!” Try it, I know you have the potential to do it well.

Thomas Jones