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!


There are winners and losers in life. Contrary to popular opinion, winning is not a lottery based on privilege, birthright, luck or special talents. There are way too many real-life “Horatio Alger stories” that prove otherwise. The number of “train wrecks” among the rich and famous makes the same point. Winning comes from having the right attitudes and making the right choices.

Winners are made in the kiln called “adversity.” It is the intense heat of adversity that strengthens and refines. Each time people conquer adversities, they are made stronger for the next trial and reminded that losing is NOT about falling down. Rather, losing is defined as “not getting up.” For winners, losing is not an option.

“My brethren, 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 are four types of people — three of them are winners.

Innovator: a person who is driven to do what has never been done before.

Orville and Wilbur Wright had a vision – powered flight. No one had ever done it, but these brothers believed they would be the first. So, they devoted their every spare moment to discover how. Innovators ignore the critics and slavishly chase their dreams. When innovators stumble, their dreams inspire them to get back up and try again. Along the way they might successfully discover hundreds of ways that do not work before they find one that does. But, innovators never give up.

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

“The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.” — Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – )

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Anonymous

Leader: a person who does what needs to be done even when he does not feel like doing it.

Leaders believe that anything that has been done before can be repeated and improved upon. They embrace the challenge to be the sequel to someone else’s legacy through their own innovations. By adding new value through the improvements they contribute, leaders raise the bar. Leaders attract followers and teach followers also to have success through a winner’s mindset, discipline, focus and hard work.

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” — Ray Kroc

“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” — Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” — Tom Peters

Follower: a person who trusts and emulates a leader. A wise follower pursues his dreams by finding a good opportunity and choosing a good leader to follow.

The rest is a game of “Follow the Leader.” Followers do what that leader does, in order to go where the leader is going. Good followers are actually leaders in training, even if they don’t realize it. They just need confidence through experience to become leaders.

“Even sheep should have brains enough not to follow the wolf.” — Joseph Goodfield

“Remember that it is far better to follow well than to lead indifferently.” — John G. Vance

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” — Woody Allen

Loser — a person who consistently sees life as an empty glass will, when presented with an opportunity, make excuses, imagine all of the worst things that can happen and succumb to the fears of his/her imagination.

Such people justify their lack of achievement by blaming something or someone. Losers also have ideas and dreams, but they either lack virtue or have allowed themselves to be held captive to the negative opinions of others. Losers give up too often and too easily, but losers seldom start anyway because they fear failure above everything else.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” — Thomas A. Edison

“If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford

Anyone can be a winner by choosing to win every moment of every day. The formula is simple, even though it’s not always easy.

God bless,

— CC

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