Potential. It's the word my teachers in high school always used when talking about me to my parents. "She has so much potential, if she'd just apply herself," they'd say. I was, in fact, well aware of my potential. I saw it as having more long term relevance than as something immediately useful to me in the present. In my mind, I needed to do just well enough to get into a decent college. After all, what good was potential in high school? I wanted to have fun while I had a lot of time and few responsibilities.
I stuck with my plan. I became a serious student as soon as I started college. I had a lot of goals for my life and my career. I received a lot of positive feedback from my professors. Many of them commented on how well I write. One professor wanted me to work as a research assistant in his lab. The reason I came to his attention was because I consistently earned the highest grade in the class on every exam. As I progressed in my academic career, I was encouraged with increasing frequency to pursue a Ph.D. By the time I finished my master's degree, I felt sure I was destined to do great things.
That was seven years ago. Today, I can't help thinking that I haven't lived up to my potential. For a few years after I finished college, I had the drive and determination to accomplish more. I embarked upon several endeavors (working towards specialized certifications, returning to school for my Ph.D., etc.). None of them worked out, for various reasons. Most recently, I'd hoped to Also, I was not going to be permitted to take any time away from my traditional work responsibilities to devote to the project. Eventually, the whole thing fell through.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting around the table chatting with a group of my family members. We started talking about our "dream job" and what a dream job would offer that our current jobs don't. Everyone had something they wanted from a job. When it was my turn to share I simply shrugged. "I don't know," I said. "I thought you wanted to do research," my mom replied. "I don't really want to do anything," I stated. This drew a laugh from everyone at the table. For me, however, I felt confused. I hadn't known I was going to say that; I hadn't even known I felt that way.
After giving it some thought, I determined that my comment had been a fairly accurate reflection of my feelings. I don't really want to do anything other than what I'm doing in my job now. Is this because my work leaves me completely fulfilled and I am 100% happy with my job? Well, no, not exactly. I guess it's more complicated than that. It's not really that I don't want to do anything else. It's more that I have no idea what else to do.
I started out in life with so many goals and ambitions. I achieved the major ones -- the master's degree, the clinical social work license, the job doing psychotherapy. As I see it, the problem is that I haven't been able to accomplish anything beyond that. It's not that I haven't made any effort. Sometimes the circumstances just weren't right. Other times, I lacked the necessary resources. And then, at some point, I became disillusioned. Still, I hate to think that I peaked at the age of 25...
I started out in life thinking I was destined for greatness. Even now I believe I am capable of doing great things -- I have the potential, so to speak. But what great things? And how? Lately, I get stuck on these questions.
What about you? Do you ever feel like you're not living up to your potential? How do you know when you are living up to your potential?