Potential Perspectives

Having closed out 2012 with two sessions of our program Your Potential Matters!, I’m inspired to share some thoughts about potential.  Pastor Claude Robold, Senior Pastor at New Covenant Church in Middletown, Ohio jokingly defines potential as “what you have NOT yet accomplished.”  From this perspective, if someone says that you have lots of potential, how is that a compliment?  Interesting thought!

Perspectives on Potential

Potential can be considered from two perspectives: talent and development.  Talent is a gift.  As such, we have no right to take credit for any potential that is embedded within our DNA.  Gifts come with the responsibility to not be wasted.  What we do to develop and apply our talents is a personal decision and a daily responsibility.

Let’s consider two additional perspectives.  First, there’s the potential of today – a person’s present capacity based on their talent and preparation-to-date.  There is also lifetime potential – a person’s absolute maximum capacity which combines natural talent with a lifetime of total commitment and preparation.

Understanding Mediocrity

I say with humility and a sense of regret that I sometimes perform at a mediocre level.  People who know me best would agree.  Those who know me casually or have a different perspective about potential are possibly confused by this, so let me explain.  A mediocre result is not a comparison with the results of others.  Just because I beat out others for a spot on the team doesn’t mean I reached my athletic potential.  Just because people enjoy my singing voice does not mean I have fully prepared and performed consistent my potential.

Mediocrity is a measurement that says, “You can do much better!”  It’s settling for “good enough” when your potential begs for more.  We are mediocre whenever we rely too heavily on our talent to get the job done.  Even when our accomplishments appear better than someone else’s, mediocrity is still mediocrity.

Confronting Limits of Our Potential

Some motivational speakers say that human beings have unlimited potential.  I disagree.  As long as we exist in human form, we have limitations. Could Olympic athlete Michael Phelps swim 100 meters in 30 seconds?  Certainly not!  Even if he could, how about one second?  The point is, potential is NOT unlimited – human beings have physical limitations that limit our potential.

While it’s useful to accept this truth, it’s much more important to avoid the trap of setting the bar too low.  Western culture teaches a code of practicality called “realism” – that somehow being realistic is virtuous.  Consequently, well-meaning people caution idealists to be more realistic and dreamers are ridiculed for their so-called “unrealistic goals.”

Realism is important, but it is also overrated.  The greatest achievements of mankind began with “unrealistic” dreams.  The conclusion is this.  As we look for our own potential, we should err on the side of “bigger is better” because our true potential is found at the very edge of impossibility.

“If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that
this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”
– Walt Disney

Limited Vision Limits Potential

Zig Ziglar was famous for pointing out the negative effects of stinkin’ thinkin’.  This practice includes the self-imposed limits people place on their potential.  The more you focus on your limitations of the present, the more difficult it will be see the potential of your future.  It’s far more productive to expand your perspective of possibilities and adopt a plan to get there.

Action leads to both successes and failures.  When I succeed I gain a clearer sense of my true potential.  Failures provide benchmarks of my progress and offer clues about what needs to change.  Both inspire me to keep pushing toward the next level.  Every time I approach my limits, I uncover new potential.  It’s staggering to imagine where I would be today if I had discovered and embraced this bit of wisdom earlier in life.  How about you?

Fear of Excellence

Why do so many people settle for less than their potential would allow?  The answer is fear.  We fear the sweat and sacrifices involved.  We fear how excellence could change our comfortable lifestyles.  We fear the responsibilities and expectations that follow high levels of performance.  Most of all, we fear failure.

Here’s the truth.  Failure is not avoided by choosing mediocrity.  We just learn to fail at a lower level.  Responsibilities don’t go away because we accept underachievement and we are not free of expectations simply because we choose the easy path.  Mediocrity is nothing less than an unfulfilling substitute for excellence.

Gratitude Leverages Potential

Are you truly grateful for the talents you have?  If so, you probably ask questions like these.  When was the last time I reflected about my potential?  In which areas am I settling for mediocrity?  What talents do I have that are collecting dust on a shelf?  What is keeping me from reaching my potential in my gifted areas?

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
  – Walt Disney

What I’ve learned about myself is this.  The more grateful I am for my God-given talents, the more I reach for the impossible, invest in my development, and apply my talents in service to others.  I believe these responses are as God intends.  And the benefits are amazing!

Let’s Not Forget Kindness

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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

Would “kindness” make your top 25 list of what it means to be a professional? Kindness belongs at least in my top 10, maybe even my top five. Call it a brain cramp.  It almost missed my list entirely. For whatever reason, kindness just never entered my mind while I was mapping out “The ABC’s of Professionalism.” Imagine my embarrassment if I had not caught the omission before completing the series.

As a Christian, it is impossible for me to write about kindness without acknowledging where it comes from. Like all things good, kindness originates from God. This statement does not imply that Christians have an exclusive claim on goodness and kindness. It merely gives credit to God for the undeserved goodness He  showers on His creation. Believers and non-believers alike are the beneficiaries of God’s ubiquitous gifts of goodness. As a result, people of every faith respond with their own acts of goodness.  It is only right that believers take time to thank God for His generosity.

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” — Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

My first instinct was to produce a process flow diagram that starts with God and arrives at kindness.  Instead, I’ll use Old Testament language: “God begets love; love and suffering beget compassion; compassion begets kindness.”

“We love Him because He first loved us.” — Bible, 1 John 4:19

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” — Bible, Galatians 5:22

God’s love is the first link.  The next link is compassion. According to Marvin Olasky, author of “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” this word literally means “suffer with.” “I feel your pain” is more than a famous presidential quotation. It’s the link between love and kindness  This thought turns on its head the notion that pain and adversity are God’s punishment.  While they can be just that, they can also be gifts intended to inspire compassion that leads to kindness.

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” — Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860)

“…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” — Bible, James 1:2-3

There is a second chain to consider.  “God begets love; love begets gratitude; gratitude begets kindness.”

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC), ‘Pro Plancio,’ 54 B.C.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” — William Arthur Ward

Like other aspects of professionalism, we can address the inner causes of kindness, the outward results and the ways they interact with one another.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” — Bible, Galatians 5:22

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — The Dalai Lama (1935 – )

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolutions.” — Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)

So, what does kindness look and feel like? Acts of mutual generosity such as exchanging gifts or favors are generally thought of as kindness. Yet, the deepest most genuine forms of kindness are acts that sacrifice time, effort, treasure or life and are rendered with no expectation of reciprocity.

“To become acquainted with kindness one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit.” — Robert J. Furey

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” — Bible, John 15:13

Pure kindness can be challenging because most of us cling to our self-centeredness. It’s almost impossible to respond to kindness opportunities while focusing on numero uno.  In extreme cases, “números uno, dos y tres” (i.e. “me, myself and I.”) is more accurate.  A special instance is the anticipated discomfort that keeps us from executing kindness toward an undesirable person.

“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” — Bible, Mark 12:31

“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” — Bible, Matthew 5:46

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” — Bible, Matthew 5:43-45

There are long-arm effects from compassion and kindness making them crucial leadership virtues with innumerable benefits.

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” — Scott Adams (1957 – )

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop (620 BC – 560 BC), The Lion and the Mouse

“The end result of kindness is that it draws people to you.” — Anita Roddick

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.” — Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965)

“That best portion of a good man’s life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” — William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Graciously showing kindness is a sign of strength. Graciously receiving kindness is a sign of humility. Both are signs of professionalism.

God bless,

— CC

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