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!

First Anniversary Reflections

On the first-year anniversary of my blog I offer heart-felt thanks to YOU for visiting “Clancy’s Quotes.” As I prepare this anniversary issue, together we are closing in on 12,000 page views, which averages out to be 1,000 views per month, 230 views per week, and 33 views per day. I realize that the numbers would increase dramatically if I pandered to the culture with crude humor, naked pictures, and stories about the celebrity du jour. Rest assured that won’t happen on this site.

Occasionally some of you will write to share how a particular quote has touched your soul or was especially timely. While I appreciate it, it’s important for me to remember and acknowledge that the quotations were invented by others. As for the timing, that is either a matter of chance or God’s choice. So, except for the connecting thoughts, I’m just the delivery boy.

Speaking of  deliverers, isn’t it strange how delivering pizza is considered a humble occupation whereas delivering the news is exalted? Delivering people to their destination in a bus is less glamorous than doing the same by airplane. Personally, I appreciate “Matt the pizza delivery man” much more than Katie Couric the news delivery lady (no offense intended).

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy…neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
— John W. Gardner (1912-2002), president of the Carnegie Corporation.

Humility is a virtue, a very confusing and highly challenging virtue to say the least. I would say that having pride in what we truly accomplish is healthy and is not contradictory to humility. Pride motivates us to continue serving others and improving ourselves.

“You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.”
— David Packard (1912-1996), co-founder of Hewlett-Packard.

Pride gets in the way of humility when we desire credit for more than we deserve and turns ugly when it graduates into grandstanding for that credit.

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.
— Barry Switzer (1937- ), American football coach.

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
— Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. President.

Taking credit for God-given talents is wrong. Taking credit for the contributions of others is, too. Both are acts of theft.

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
— Malcolm S. Forbes (1919-1990), publisher of Forbes Magazine.

“Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self.”
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), British Reformed Baptist preacher.

Humility is graciously accepting unsolicited praise for one’s accomplishments AND deflecting the appropriate amount of credit toward those who also played a role. Humility is about quietly doing one’s business and enjoying the results whether anyone notices or not.

“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”
— Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), A Founding Father of the U.S.

Back to the quotes. I sometimes imagine becoming a prolific writer of Twain-like memorable and pithy phrases . I once envisioned Mark Twain suddenly standing up in a room full of people with his fist raised to proclaim, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” As the oohs and ahs filled the room, he smiled and sat down again. Moments later he arose again to make another proclamation: “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” He bowed to the laughter and applause and sat down again. Hopefully this ridiculous mind video drives home the point that the 208 Mark Twain quotes at http://www.brainyquote.com are really just tiny excerpts isolated from a huge body of work.   Except maybe for Steven Wright, no one sits around thinking up quotes.

“I’m writing an unauthorized autobiography.”
— Steven Wright (1955- ), American comedian, actor, writer.

“If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do all the rest have to drown too?”
— Steven Wright (1955- ), American comedian, actor, writer.

On those rare occasions, when I accidentally think up something that borders on the profound (at least in my own mind) generally no one is around to share it with. This is probably a good thing. Embarrassment comes easily to rookies. Then again, we can only imagine the stupid or bland things Samuel Clemens said or wrote before he became Mark Twain.

The truth is, I am most effective as a delivery boy of other people’s great ideas. You know what? I’m okay with that. Your comments are proof that this approach has value. And as long as something has value it is worth doing and doing well. So, I will continue my best effort to seek out and deliver inspirational and thought-provoking words. And I’ll keep writing for the joy of it whether or not BrainyQuote adds me to their database.

God bless,

— CC

(1809-1865), 16th U.S. President.