To the Professional Who Feels Like They're Wasting Their Potential

Do you feel like you’re not reaching your potential?

Maybe you’re still trying. Maybe you gave up somewhere along the way.

Regardless of where you happen to be, realizing that you aren’t living up to the image of success that you had for yourself can be a tough pill to swallow. Professional success is a long, tough road that often comes with setbacks and heartbreak.

If you feel like you keep trying and coming up short, stuck in a place that doesn’t recognize what you have to offer, or you’ve set your dreams aside out of necessity, I have a few thoughts that just may help you pick back up and realize all that you are capable of.


6 Things You Must Realize If You Want to Reach Your Potential

1) You don’t need to be perfect.

Do you have a perfectionist streak? If you’re someone who feels like they have to do everything just right, all the time, this can lead to big problems as you try to reach your full potential. Not only can this drive to be perfect at everything lead to depression and anxiety, but you’re going to find yourself unwilling to take risks when you need to. You’re going to be afraid of failure, and perhaps afraid of the weight of responsibility and the higher stakes that come with success.

A willingness to fail and learn to improve is the only way to reach your potential. So embrace it.

2) You have to stop sometimes.

We have this odd habit of believing that the only way to succeed is to work all the time. We’d only going to reach our potential if we work overtime, take on all of the extra projects, work on weekends too, and stay late. Here’s the truth: you have to take breaks. Use your weekends to rest. Turn your brain off at night. Take vacations.

You have to stop sometimes. It’s the only way you will reach your potential. Peak performance doesn’t happen when you never turn off. Allow yourself to rest and truly recharge. This is where you will find yourself able to truly come most alive.

3) You can’t be content with where you are.

For some of us, we’ve given up. If that’s where you are right now, but something in you still wants to be more and reach what you know you can be, you have to understand that you have to stop being content with where you are. This is the only condition in which you will ever be able to change your present circumstances.

Once you realize your present self and circumstances are unacceptable and that it is in your power to change them, you are poised to take steps towards realizing your potential. You just have to be willing to move first.

4) You have to hone in.

In Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, the main character Esther describes a vision of a fig tree.

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

While Esther’s story is not about professional success, but a journey of healing through mental illness and depression, there is a great deal we can glean from her anxieties in this passage. There’s a reason this particular passage has resonated with so many—enough to appear in the series Master of None on Netflix in the past few years.

Many of us feel as though we are not reaching our potential simply because we feel that we could be going in so many different directions. We want to be so many different things, all at once. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, or wanting to accomplish a lot in life. What is wrong is letting this potential and these ideas paralyze you. You have to choose a fig. Start somewhere. Hone in on something. Your choice does not mean you cannot do other things later.

We all have to have a focus to begin with, so start there.

5) You might not be in the right place.

A critical realization may simply be that you are not in the right environment to reach your potential. Your job might be holding you back. Your current position may be hindering you. It could be that this is not what you were meant to do, not what you really care about, or not what you excel in. Examine yourself and your heart—remember, this is not about what makes you the most money, or what will get you to the top. It’s about your potential. What do you excel at, and what do you truly care about?

Where will your flourish?

If you are not flourishing where you are, it may be time to step out on faith to figure out where that might be. If you can’t do that, take it in small steps. Do some research. Take up a hobby and continue your education. Figuring out the best place to be is no small feat, but it is necessary.

6) You need good people by your side.

Your potential is not limited to your own ability. The people we surround ourselves with play a huge role in shaping us. Are you surrounding yourself with the kind of people that bring out the best in you? Do they make you want to be a better person? Do they inspire you to be more successful, more innovative, and the best at whatever you do?

Be mindful of who you place by your side. Do they bring you up? And are you, in turn, bringing them up? Your potential can be brought down by the company you keep. So keep them carefully.

While your vision for yourself may seem far off, remember that people don't become their best selves overnight. You can achieve your potential in small consistent efforts—and, in fact, that is the only way to do it.

What inspires you to achieve your dreams? Share what motivates you in the comments.