Potential is a Dirty Word

Someone said this to me when I was talking to them at an event recently. I was discussing an opportunity to work with them in the future and I described myself as having “plenty of potential” at which point them stopped me mid-sentence. They said to me that using the word “potential” immediately turned them off from working with me. I asked them why? They replied that having potential is not good enough anymore. Having the potential to achieve and actually achieving are on very different scales. Therefore potential is a dirty word.

It got me thinking about the way that we as people are manufactured to sell ourselves, conditioned to some extent through formal education. We are constantly told by our teachers, peers and parents that we have the potential to do something great, if we put our minds to it. But that gives the impression that we can only do something in the future, as by extension that means that doing anything now could harm that potential. I sometimes think that this is what fuels the amount of inactivity that we can see in this generation. They choose to live off this fake “potential” wave in the hope that they will be able to come through without putting in as much effort as they could be – and in this way, ironically, they could be killing any great qualities that they have in the present.

The only way in which this “potential” can be managed and taken forward is if we stop thinking that it is only good in the future. And it shouldn’t be the only thing that fuels our self-confidence enough to put ourselves out there. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves and realise that potential is no good to anyone else if they require our services, even if you are young. Sure, they are looking for you to grow on the job and show enthusiasm, but if you are just a lemon with the potential to be less lemony – don’t be surprised if they tell you that they will keep your CV on file in case something comes up (a polite form of “We are rejecting you”)

So do something about it now. Don’t be under the impression that “potential” is going to take you from where you are to where you want to end up. It is not a selling point. And on the flip side, if you aren’t told you have potential; don’t let it set you back. What will help you is taking the time out to do anything to better yourself and make you a better bet. Don’t rely or be stopped by something that hasn’t happened. Draw on what you have already done and are doing. Potential is a dirty word and a self fulfilling prophecy, because the more you hope to draw on later, the less work you will do now, and the more you will have lost in the process. Don’t get sucked in.


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