Do we have a duty to live up to our potential?

It takes a while to discover who we are.

During my sophomore year in high school, Coach Stucker hounded me in gym every week to try out for the football team. “You'd make a great cornerback,” he'd say after seeing me run a 4.5, 40. At 5'10” and 155 pounds, I felt undersized, but at least I could move and bench 225 pounds.

“I don't care if you are only 5'10” 155 pounds,” Coach argued as his 6'3″ frame stood over me. “You know who is the greatest cornerback in the NFL right now? Darrell Green. He's 5'8″, maybe 5'9″, and 165 pounds dripping wet. I'll work with you to build muscle and you'll get as big and just as fast as Darrell in no time. We need you.”

Darrell Green played for the Redskins from 1983 to 2002 and was a 7X Pro Bowl selection and 2X Super Bowl champ. There was no denying Coach's argument that I could play football. I just didn't want to. I was constantly worried that I'd injure myself and it would put me out for the tennis season where I was team captain.

My rational mind kicked in:

Football is fun, but I don't know the game well enough since I grew up overseas.

There's no chance I would ever be good enough to get recruited by a Division I school, so why bother?

What if I get a concussion or break a bone? I'd rather play tennis and be pain-free all year.

Three hours of brutal practice after school is not my idea of fun.

In the end, I never played a down of organized football even though I LOVE the sport. Until this day I regret never having tried. Football is such a big part of Americana that it's a shame never to have played a down, dived for that interception, or run back an errant throw for a touchdown! Maybe I would have been knocked on my butt, but I'll never know now that I'm old and too slow to make a difference.

Should We Live Up to Our Potential?

Imagine being able to play a Mozart sonata on violin by the time you are 6 years old. What a shame it would be if your parents never pushed you to live up to your musical potential. Throughout high school and college, I've seen so many extraordinarily talented people never pursue their talents and end up being average just like the rest of us.

It seems like an inevitability that the bell curve kicks in to where we end up all the same. Even the delusional people who think they are more talented than they are get knocked back to Earth.

I'm pretty average in everything I do. For example, despite living overseas for 14 years in six different countries, I still can only speak Mandarin and English. My Spanish and Japanese are horrendous even though I spent seven years studying Spanish and two years living in Kobe. Although my income and wealth could be considered above average for my age, there's nothing really special that went into it except for saving, investing and getting lucky here and there.

But we all have something we are good at that is not being maximized. The only thing I'm good at is never giving up. Even after publishing “Feeling Down and Out in This Perfect World,” a post that essentially said I'm burnt out, I haven't quit writing three to four times a week and I've even begun to write a post or two a month for Get Rich Slowly.

Even after getting in serious trouble for being a prankster the summer after high school, I didn't quit trying to get good grades in college so I could have a chance at employment. And even after the financial meltdown tore away 35 percent of my net worth, I decided to finally start Financial Samurai to try and make sense of chaos.

Unfortunately, I've reached a stage where I'm beginning to tire of never giving up, partly because most of the adversity is gone. It's become very difficult to try harder because I've stopped craving for more. After food, clothing, shelter, hot water, a phone and some passive income enough to take care of a family of three, what's the point of trying to keep trying so hard? My friends say I should start a family. Surely kids would recharge the empty motivation battery, no? But then why are there so many dead-beat parents?

A lack of adversity is why I crave doubters to keep me motivated. Doubters might think they are putting me down, but in reality, they are giving me much needed motivation. I feel alive when I'm challenged and ambivalent when I'm not. Does anybody else feel the same way?

Where is the Sense of Urgency?

I'm feeling like society is slowly lulling us into a numb state of complacency when we actually need the greatest sense of urgency ever. Just living in America is paradise enough compared with so many other unstable countries around the world. The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough to help others, and many more who are conducting self-inflicting wounds to their finances.

I've interacted with a ton of 20-somethings recently on my travels overseas and I'm afraid for their future. Maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong people, but when so many are underemployed, not working on the careers they want, and still dependent on their parents after college, it's cause for concern. How is an unemployed 27-year-old who has never held a stable job for longer than a year ever going to catch up with the 27-year-old who has been gainfully employed at the same firm every year since college? Unless there is a huge wealth transfer by inheritance, it seems as if our youth is stuck until older generations are willing to retire to make room.

Despite the concerns, I think back to how everyone has some special gift that is being underutilized. It's scary to try to live up to our potential because we wonder about failure. What if we might try so hard only to realize we never were very talented in the first place? But I encourage everyone to identify one thing they are good at and do everything possible to make yourself great. Don't regret never trying out for the football team like I did. Only until you've failed after trying your best will you be satisfied knowing your life can't get much better than now.

Readers, do we have a responsibility to live up to our full potential? How many of us can really say we've pushed ourselves to the limits? How do we ensure our loved ones don't waste their potential?

Regards,

Sam

More about...Psychology

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Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Maybe it’s my age or the fact that I’m a former teacher, but the “living up to your potential” and “make every moment count” make me roll my eyes 😉 I do think we all have certain gifts and we have a responsibility to use those gifts to help others and ourselves. But at the same time, life isn’t perfect and we aren’t perfect and there’s no way we can “live up to our potential” all the time, in every way possible. I also think that “living up to your potential” is in the eye of the beholder. I’m well… Read more »

Bridgett T
Bridgett T
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

“I don’t know that we have a duty to live up to our “full potential”, but I do think we (collectively) have a responsibility to help others who don’t have the same advantages that we do. You can’t force someone to work harder, but you can give people opportunities to help themselves.” I really like that. The thing is, we can’t replay our lives to figure out what could’ve happened differently. You could’ve been horribly injured in a football game, Sam. People who never had children could be infertile anyway. Maybe we were all better off with the choices we… Read more »

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

#1/Beth – Like X 1000.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I agree with your last part especially. It’s up to folks who have the capability to do more to help others, and for those who want to get ahead to do more to help themselves. It’s got to be a concerted effort.

Sometimes reluctant realist
Sometimes reluctant realist
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Count me as well in the “roll my eyes” camp. Not a critique of Sam here – rather at societal pressures that force false or unrealistic expectations on people (writing this on Valentines Day which adds many false pressures of its own.) I would place “living up to my potential” up there with the mythical “soul mate” – both suggest some grand plan specifically for you that you are not measuring up to …because the goals themselves are false goals. Despite the fact that the title of this website is “get rich slowly” the main message here I think is… Read more »

Lizzie T.
Lizzie T.
6 years ago

I have two main thoughts on this: 1. Very very few people ever live up to their full potential. Everybody has roadblocks. I will never forget the day that my dad, after giving me a rah-rah speech about always trying my best (I think I was failing college Russian at the time), stopped himself short and said, “You know what? That’s bull. No one ever tries their best *all the time.* Dwight Eisenhower didn’t try his best *all the time,* every minute of the day. It’s impossible. So just do the best you can with what you have.” 2. That… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Lizzie T.

I’m down with goal setting. Just making one big goal a year goes very far.

Cookster
Cookster
6 years ago

As an ex-teacher myself, I remember going on a field trip with my hispanic students. As we passed the meat packing plant, the boys punched each other and pointed, self acknowledging their futures. How sad. I truly loved these students, yet culturally they could not overcome the fact that they felt this was their destiny.
Beth, I am a 5’11” woman. The students used to tell me I needed to have 5 sons so the school could have a good basketball team. I never did have children, so I guess I failed, too.

AC
AC
6 years ago

I would definitely put a getrichslowly spin on this and ask if people’s portfolios were living up to their true potential.

To me, true potential insinuates that we are all put on this earth for specific purposes and as we grow, socialize, and integrate into our society and culture, our conditions either enhance or hamper what we really could be. However, each day we all do the best we can with the tools we have.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I too am weary about the “living up to your potential” ideology. Life has a way of balancing out and usually when someone is busy living up to their potential in a certain area, other areas suffer for it. I think as long as you are the type of person that always tries to learn, that is sufficient and you will naturally move towards a better version of yourself without having to forceably push towards some invisible goal. Besides, as Beth stated above, everyone will have their own opinion of if what you’re doing is truly your full potential. When… Read more »

Mike
Mike
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Reminds me of a favorite quote, “In the end people will judge you anyway. Don’t live your life impressing others, live your life impressing yourself.” If being a zookeeper makes you happy and excited to go to work you are probably ahead of 99% of the people that would try and knock you down over that decision. PS – my rationale for staying in my OK corporate job is that it allows for me to have balance and do all the things I love and enjoy (outside of the amazing, exciting, rockstar lifestyle that insurance is 40 hours a week).… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Very sound advice Mike, thank you.

Heather
Heather
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Imoot –
I always find your comments interesting and your personal narrative intriguing. Ever thought about jumping on the personal finance blog bandwagon?

Mike
Mike
6 years ago
Reply to  Heather

I would agree Heather, if I didn’t know from her posts that she has about 5 and a half minutes of free time to herself each week!

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  Heather

Thank you Heather, that’s kind 🙂 I actually have thought about it, at least as a way just to get my thoughts and ideas down in a journal type format. I think everyone could benefit from doing something like that and that’s why there’s so many blogs.

There’s something so therapeutic about writing, and for me it’s motivating to see written goals. So far my main medium has been scribbled sticky notes (though I’ve recently upgraded to a white board).

@MIKE – Right? Hopefully not for much longer though

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Thoughts on living up to one’s potential in honor of those who don’t even have a chance because they are too poor, or were simply born in the wrong country or to the wrong parents?

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

All I can think of is, will cleaning your plate help the starving children in Bangladesh?

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Probably not much. But when I went on my trips to India and China we were able to help it in our own small ways.

Are you a frequent visitor to Bangladesh and Asia? I’d love to hear more as I’ve been going back every year for 30 years. Love to meet more Americans who’ve traveled to Asia. They are somewhat hard to find.

Keep up the positive attitude!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

One time I didn’t want to eat the crust of some pizzas they fed us at some work thing, and a friend tried to pull that “children are starving [somewhere]” trip on me.

I told her if she’d just give me an address I’d gladly mail my uneaten crusts to those children.

Divya
Divya
6 years ago

Hi Sam I agree with you – we have a duty to live up to our fullest potential. I am thirty years old and have wanted to write for a long time. It is only in the last two months that I started writing my blog financesunplugged.blogspot.com. It gives me immense pleasure that I am doing something I have wanted to do. I have a full time job and try to write two articles a week. Writing can be both tiring and satisfying. I am sure you already know that. I have lived in two countries – India and U.S.A.… Read more »

Jane
Jane
6 years ago

There will probably always be someone who thinks you didn’t live up to your full potential. Since I didn’t pursue a career in academia and devote my life to the minutia of history, I’m sure my advisor thinks I fell short in some way. Since I’m a mostly stay at home mom at the moment, I’m sure many people think I am squandering my education or my finances. But I’ve learned to embrace what some might consider mediocrity. Always trying to improve yourself in certain arbitrary, success-based ways is not only exhausting; it is a tyranny of its own. There’s… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Good to know about children! I am a super optimist, so I wonder what that would do to me?

Anne
Anne
6 years ago

You will most certainly not want to have children just to give yourself a new financial goal. But if you DO have them, you will have plenty of financial goals thrust upon you.

Your expenses will increase as they get older and want to try things such as sports, music, dance, camp, etc. And we won’t even mention the whole college thing.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

But if you DO have them, you will have plenty of financial goals thrust upon you.

And you certainty don’t need children for that!

Mrs PoP
Mrs PoP
6 years ago

I think this is a slippery slope to go down. If you spend your whole life living up to others’ expectations, you’ll ignore your own goals and aspirations.

There are many people in my life who think I’ve disappointed them by not finishing my PhD and bringing them (parents, professors, advisers, etc) more bragging rights. But I was miserable. I hated it. I left and am not only happier, but healthier and wealthier as well.

As long as your “underachievement” isn’t hurting anyone else, I think it’s no one’s business what you want to do with your life.

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Who gets to set the potential level for us? I think it’s up to the individual. As long as we are happy and not causing any harm to ourselves or other who cars what other think.

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago

“Unless there is a huge wealth transfer by inheritance, it seems as if our youth is stuck until older generations are willing to retire to make room.” I believe this is a multifaceted issue with several factors in play – one of them being student loans. One huge reasons people are still not so independent. There’s quite a few people not able to keep up with payments or are moving back in with their parents to save money. Wages just aren’t the same as they used to be also – things just haven’t kept up with inflation for a twenty… Read more »

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

This sounds like a first world problem. Living up to your true potential – what does that even mean? Everyone is unique, so the manifestation of them living up to their true potential should yeild people doing all sorts of different things to the best of their ability. This does NOT imply that everyone will rise to stardom and have a lasting legacy for their efforts, it just means they work hard at what they need to do to get their particular work done. I think in America we implicitly connect “living up to your full potential” with Fame, Wealth,… Read more »

Laraba
Laraba
6 years ago

I agree with many of the comments that “living up to our potential” can open up a giant, ugly can of worms. Honestly, FOOTBALL? I think you made a good decision. You thought it through, you had cogent reasons for not playing, and you didn’t. People do get hurt. It would have taken time that you devoted to other things. It might have been good, but it doesn’t sound like skipping football damaged your life in any way. I have a PhD in engineering and elected to work full time for 2 years, then drop down to very part time… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
6 years ago
Reply to  Laraba

Do you have trouble coming up with that many names? 😉

Slinky
Slinky
6 years ago
Reply to  Laraba

From early on, I showed some talent with music. I went to a special arts high school. Turns out in the classical world, I’m really just average or just slightly better than. Out of all my friends and acquaintances at that school, I know of only three people who actually went on to work in music and I think only one is really on the way to “making it” in opera. And you know what? I’m good at a whole bunch of other things too. I made my career in one and pursue several others as hobbies and potential “encore”… Read more »

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

I agree with many post. I studied interior design and architecture in college and after college, I went to work for a small firm only to quit 9 months later to start raising a family. I stayed home for 6 years while the children were small and then went back to work but not in the design industry but working at an insurance company. I still love design and has become more of a hobby but the work hours would have taken me away from my family. I don’t regret at all that I chose a 8-4 job over the… Read more »

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

“The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough”.

Really? Is this why the wealth gap is widening? Most people work their butts off and this would have no bearing on the wealth gap. It’s far beyond the average person’s influence. I can work harder to earn more, but I’ll never keep up with the high income folks whose ever-increasing salary widens the gap.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

It should read, “The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough to HELP OTHERS.” Maybe I can have the editors add these missing words.

In other words, those with knowledge or financial means need to do more to help others through education, donation of money, donation of time, starting a blog, etc.

If everybody pitched in to focus on helping other people while those who need help could reduce self-infliction such as spending half their income on a car, I think we can make a difference.

cherie
cherie
6 years ago

The question is always like starting a conversation in the middle. To whom might we ‘owe’ this? Future generations? The world economy? Ourselves? I don’t owe anyone anything. If my potential is to be a genius at agricultural genetics but it is personally abhorrent to me and I choose to be a basket weaver instead, well, it’s my choice as long as I’m not asking anyone else to support that choice. I think the income gap is a different conversation I have no problem with ANYONE failing to meet their potential. I have a problem with those who are able… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago

“The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough, and many more who are conducting self-inflicting wounds to their finances.”

Do you really think this is the only reason for the wealth gap? It couldn’t have anything to do with wages stagnating while expenses go up?

I do think SOME of it is self-inflicted, and people need to control as much as they can, but there are other factors at work.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

It should read, “The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough to HELP OTHERS.”

In other words, those with knowledge or financial means need to do more to help others through education, donation of money, donation of time, starting a blog, etc.

If everybody pitched in to focus on helping other people while those who need help could reduce self-infliction such as spending half their income on a car, I think we can make a difference.

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago

Thank you for the clarification. However, the wealth gap is so huge that I don’t think it can be solved by rich people donating money or starting a finance blog.

(Even though that oft-cited quote about six Waltons being worth more than 30% of Americans is a perfect example of how to lie with statistics. Tried to link to a Forbes article debunking that, but the link wouldn’t work.)

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

The help has to start from somewhere, so it might as well start with us.

What is the solution you suggest beyond education, donation of time, donation of money, and discussion?

thx

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

I don’t know what the specific solution is, but I know this problem is too large and structural to be entirely solved by the charity of individuals. Some of it has to do with the huge number of jobs moved overseas. Some of it has to do with changes in the tax code (no, I don’t think we should go back to Eisenhower-era rates, but nor do I think billionaires should pay lower income taxes than the middle class, simply because their income comes from capital gains). Some of it has to do with the fact that businesses can simply… Read more »

M
M
6 years ago

This post hit me the wrong way. I’m thirty and know some twenty years old. Twenty and thirty year olds I see are doing everything they can to reach their potential. The job market has changed. A four year degree means nothing, even interning may mean nothing. It’s very hard to get a decent job unless you “know the right people” . 80% of jobs are gotten through networking according to ABC news. That’s huge. A lot of people are trying to get a job. Their working a full time job while interning part time for experience. My sister moved… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

I got the PhD (academic potential) and failed to live up to my full career potential (in the opinion of my advisor, anyway) by taking an administrative rather than tenure track job. Also, living up to my academic potential really cost me a lot in terms of my finances.

I am much happier with my life than I think I would have been had I pursued the tenure track, however. I agree with others who say that this whole “you can, so you must” belief can be very damaging indeed.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

At least you got a PhD! I think that’s an incredible accomplishment Dr. Smith.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Awesome, you made my day! The only people who call me that with regularity are the head of my department and my husband 😉

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

Ah, I could relate to this post so much. “I feel alive when I’m challenged and ambivalent when I’m not. Does anybody else feel the same way?” Yes! But here’s what I’ve learned. For me, it’s not so much the challenge or the end goal or the ‘living up to my potential’ that make me feel alive. I just happen to feel alive when my brain and energy are engaged. At least for me, it’s not so much about living up to my potential as it is being happy on a day to day basis. I’ve learned to stop obsessing… Read more »

Neil
Neil
6 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

@Kristin Wong: Very well said. I have not heard that perspective before, and I am intrigued. I have a few talents and I often think about whether I am fully realizing my own potential. And sometimes personal/familial happiness and that maximization of potential are in opposition. It can be a difficult situation for someone to accept: to deliberately sacrifice being “all you can be” for another more amorphous goal.

cheers,
-Neil.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

I’m glad your mom decided to do what makes her happy in the end. Because happiness is what counts the most.

I do feel there is a duty to make the most of what we’ve got, b/c so many people don’t have our same opportunities. Maybe this is just me growing up in developing countries speakin.

Michael in Missouri
Michael in Missouri
6 years ago

I guess I have a different perspective on this, one closer to Sam’s. My career is one that involves developing a lot of highly specific, seemingly useless skills. They’re not things you learn how to do overnight, but take years of apprenticing to get right. I see a lot younger people in my line of work who have great potential to really excel at this, but many just don’t commit and end up being mediocre. Maybe that’s fine, and maybe they’re happier and better balanced people as a result, but I think that real excellence is getting rarer. The most… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Uff, this is a big one, because there are many assumptions to untangle. First, my ethics tend to align with Aristotle/Emerson/Nietzsche, so I do admire people who do great things, live up to their potential, etc. However, pleasing other people is not the same as living up to your own potential. Emerson wrote about hearing a different drummer– not the coach’s. And one of my favorite maxims by Nietzsche is Become what you are (not “become what other people want you to become.”) However, I think it’s hard to tell what you are from what other people want. I stopped… Read more »

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

“I’ll have to say though— more than people who do great things, I’m grateful for the people who do GOOD things.”

El Nerdo, you are awesome. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Jacq
Jacq
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

+1 for Citizen Kane reference.
El Nerdo I think you would like this post:

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/life-is-picture-but-you-live-in-pixel.html

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

That was a great cartoon! Thanks!

Neil
Neil
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

@El Nerdo: Wow, this was really well-written and thought-provoking. Not sure about your musical preferences but your description of “everyday” heroes brings to mind the song “Nobody’s Hero” by Rush. Thanks for a great comment.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Neil

Neil… Peart? Is that you??? 😀

Neil
Neil
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Heh, I wish! He certainly lived up to his potential as a drummer. He is also a brilliant lyricist and here’s a quote from the Rush song Mission which fits the theme of this blog post: [regarding those who sacrifice a lot to achieve their dreams] “Obsession has to have action — Pride turns on the drive It’s cold comfort To the ones without it To know how they struggled — How they suffered about it If their lives were exotic and strange They would likely have gladly exchanged them For something a little more plain Maybe something a little… Read more »

Waverly
Waverly
6 years ago

Eh, I don’t think everyone is a special snowflake in some way. I really don’t. Most people are really just average.

Everyone wants to BELIEVE that they are a special snowflake, with lots of potential to realize, sure.

Get out of your head about it. You’ve got food, clothing, shelter, and are not on the brink of financial ruin. Don’t stress about living up to your potential. Maybe having food, clothing, shelter and not being on the brink of financial ruin IS living up to the potential of most people.

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

But the problem with your perspective is that it is what leads to the hero worship of CEOs, athletes, musicians and other successful and/or rich people. After all, the cream rises to the top, right?

I just reject this idea fundamentally.

Waverly
Waverly
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Sure, the cream rises to the top, but these days it seems like everyone thinks they are going to definitely be the cream. For example, take Sam’s example of football and your example of pro athletes. He regrets not trying out for football, even though if he had tried out for it he might have really sucked at it and he almost certainly wouldn’t have gone pro. We live in a country where we’re telling everyone, “You’re great. You can throw a football, that means you definitely have the potential to go pro.” It’s just not true. Most people really… Read more »

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

I could possibly agree with you when discussing athletes, but overall I don’t think that the best of the best or the smartest or most talented are always the ones who de facto inhabit the top positions in society. CEOs might get paid thousands of times more than the average employee, but that doesn’t mean that they are thousands of times more talented or valuable than the rest of us “average” folk. I guess that was my point. If we assume that everyone not in positions of prestige are average and everyone who so to speak rises above average employment… Read more »

waverly
waverly
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I think we fundamentally disagree on what consitutes an extraordinary person, a person who is extraordinarily talented, and when/why people should be extolled. Yes, of course it’s great when the mail carrier does a good job of delivering the mail. It’s on time and it’s not ripped and it’s not covered in dirt and s/he locked up my mailbox properly after delivering. But why should I extoll this person? Just for doing his or her job to an acceptable level? There’s a difference between appreciating someone’s job well done and feting someone for actually just…doing what they are paid to… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  waverly

But why should I extoll this person? Just for doing his or her job to an acceptable level? There’s a difference between appreciating someone’s job well done and feting someone for actually just…doing what they are paid to do. I don’t know about “extolling,” I said I’m grateful for people who do good things. Why am I grateful? Because people aren’t machines where you insert a coin and they perform a task mechanically. Work is not just “for the money.” That’s an awfully wrong way to look at human endeavor. Because good things make a difference, as opposed to so-so… Read more »

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  waverly

Why shouldn’t we extoll them for a job well done? Maybe it would even out the amount of public accolade that the wealthy and high profile among us receive on a daily basis. This all reminds me of an article I read recently in Slate about how we all show such great deference for the rich, as if somehow they hold more wisdom than we do. But being rich just means that you’re good at making money, not that you are a wise person or worth emulating. I’m thinking specifically about the type of worldview I want to create for… Read more »

erica
erica
6 years ago

I DID play a Beethoven sonata on violin at 6 (actually 10) and my parents pushed me hard because they saw my potential. I quit playing at 16 when I left home because they pushed me hard at everything.

My potential is mine to use/waste as I see fit. You can pay me to utilize it, you can help me to nurture it and I can do the same for you but that’s it. And if my potential was for mayhem and murder, we’d all be better if I didn’t utilize it.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  erica

Erica, any regrets not keeping up with the violin?

I regret not being able to play a musical instrument well b/c I hated practicing.

Mouhamed K
Mouhamed K
6 years ago

Great article we all have the potential to be great but most people don’t push hard enough. People tend to give up soon as they hit a hurdle. Let’s all pusb ourselves 10 times harder and we will all accomplish our goals.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
6 years ago

Even the best of the best are plagued by this same sentiment–trying to fulfill your potential. But this is an imaginary mountain that exists only in your own mind. And focusing on one goal of being the best in __ means that you will fail in other areas–areas that may be more important to you. Too much focus on being the best in one area can bring the same destruction to one’s life, like happened in Steinbeck’s The Pearl. I have had the pleasure of working for somebody who was recognized and admitted into a Hall of Fame and are… Read more »

John Williams
John Williams
6 years ago

The following two thoughts presented in this article contradict each other. I do not agree with either. “The wealth gap continues to widen due to those with capability not doing enough, and many more who are conducting self-inflicting wounds to their finances.” “Unless there is a huge wealth transfer by inheritance, it seems as if our youth is stuck until older generations are willing to retire to make room.” The wealth gap has expanded due to the tax structure of the USA and the shrinking middle class income. As disposable income from the lower 90 percentile continures to shrink there… Read more »

Edward
Edward
6 years ago

What if I don’t want to? I can play guitar pretty well (I’ve had my music on the radio), I write halfway decent (had small things published) I’m a pretty good artistic painter and photographer. So what? Does that mean I have to spend long hours in order to excel at guitar, make the world happy, make myself more fulfilled as a human? What if I just play when I want? …Or not? I don’t have anything to prove and don’t have a need to impress anyone. I’ve been chastised by people before for not playing music more and making… Read more »

That Career Girl
That Career Girl
6 years ago

I’m not one to judge anybody else and really what I perceive to be living up to my potential could be markedly different from how they perceive it. Many 20-somethings consider extensive travelling and living freely to be a rite of passage (of which I am a little envious!). Further, living up to one’s potential can be measured by your salary, the difference you make to other people’s lives, perhaps a novel that you slave away writing in the dark for years only to sell a few copies. It’s hard to identify and measure whether potential is being reached. Personally… Read more »

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Love, love this line: “To me, living to my full potential is continually learning, maturing, advancing in my career and being able to give back to others.” Totally agree!

I don’t think people ever really “peak”. A lot of great artists, writers, inventors, musicians, etc. create some of their best works later in life. These days, there’s a rise in entrepreneurship not just among the young but people who are close to retirement or retired.

I think we get better with age 😉

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago

There was this HUGE “lifestyle design” movement online in 2008-2010 about quitting your job and living your passions. The reality is, many of these folks lost their jobs during the worst downturn of our time. But the great thing is they tried to make a positive out of a negative. And for that, I commend them.

I do wonder what happens now that the economy is back. Do we quit our passions to make some money to survive and save for our futures now?

Linquent
Linquent
6 years ago

Who decides what our “potential” is?

When I was in fifth grade, my parents went to a parent-teacher meeting at the grade school I was in. The teacher told my parents: “Give up now. He is going to grow up to be a juvenile deliquent.”

Was that my potential? It was my potential as far as that teacher was concerned.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Linquent

Tough teacher! Were you that bad? If not, that teacher should be out!

Gousalya
Gousalya
6 years ago

For me that would be when I have that reached the persona that nothing can break, influence or move me without my permission. It is the state of complete peace and finding joy in every little thing.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I think your mixing things up a bit. Have you ever judged a person, based on their friends of family? Why? It is because of potential. Your afraid they will be like, or follow the group. You have lots of potential and some of it is negative (and I have seen situations where that is pushed at the person as a “will be”). That has NOTHING to do with Passion. You can find someone who has passion, and no potential in an area, and they use their passion to obtain the skills that they lack from potential. When potential and… Read more »

Untemplater
Untemplater
6 years ago

I generally give it my all when I do something, but there are definitely things I didn’t pursue to my full potential. Most of them I don’t really regret because I lost interest in them.

But right now I could push myself to keep going some work tonight, but I’m giving in to my sleepiness. Sometimes we just have to make sacrifices for a healthier balance.

Nora
Nora
6 years ago

I have several strong artistic talents (that are approved by successful pro’s) and I tried to develop a living out of them for twenty years – to no avail. I was really hard working, investing a lot of love, energy, time, and money, and I also got general positive response – but the money didn’t come. Finally I had to abandon my arts to earn my living and get some savings. I’ve met quite a few even ingenious artists nobody was interested in. It is like Life sometimes gives a talent and then doesn’t support its development of the full… Read more »

Rose
Rose
6 years ago

I think about this a lot, actively, every day, because I am a free-lance classical musician. This is a hugely competitive field, with a glut of extremely talented and well trained musicians competing for a dwindling job pool. By sheer numbers, under 5% of people trained for this career will actually make their living in it, if that. In my opinion, most people who have the potential (in my industry) chose not to do something truly great do it because of happiness/comfort. I have been in hotels the entire month of February and will be for another week before I… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Rose

Persistence and endurance…. definitely two things that success requires. In fact, I would think they are more than half the battle!

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

I think you made the right call regarding playing football. My husband was a fantastic baseball player and made the All-Star team in high school. At that level, the coaches pushed the kids hard physically, encouraging them to take hits at the plate and to slide aggressively. He broke both his tibia and fibula sliding on a holey field. He has pain and trouble walking to this day, and arthritis began in his early 30s. He constantly says it wasn’t worth it and wishes he could go back and avoid sports. The idea of wasting potential came up when I… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Marie

Ouch on your husband, but good one at Sephora!

Marketing… gotta love it.

Yeah, who knows about football. It’s just an example, but something I’ve thought about for a while every time I watch a game on TV.

Kevin
Kevin
6 years ago

I think everybody does have a responsibility to live up to their fullest potential.
Life is to short to be complacent and not challenge ourselves.
I find that some of the ways we can overcome complacency is to build a plan, setup goals, and then stick to that plan.

And in society, when everybody lives up to their potential then we will see an awesome society.

I appreciate your post 🙂

Drew
Drew
6 years ago

You have a responsibility (to yourself) to do whatever the hell you want. Because in the grand scheme of things, nothing that we do matters…so you might as well enjoy yourself!

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Drew

Love it! I’m all about kicking back and doing whatever too.

If more people were like this, we’d have less people complaining b/c they’d be doing exactly what they want to be doing that results in their current situation!

The peculiarity is that there are those who complain why they can’t get ahead while working less than 40 hours a week. Hard work requires no skill! Hard to catch up to the person working 70 hours a week.

ChinoF
ChinoF
6 years ago

“Living up to your potential” is actually a very difficult concept to define. What is potential? What is living up to it? The thing is, it’s based on expectations by others. Just because you’re tall, they say, play basketball and be a basketball star. That’s the problem with defining this concept. It differs with each person’s opinion about your potential. For me, live the way you want, the hell with other people’s expectations.

Squints
Squints
2 months ago

Sorry to pile on, but I agree with other commenters that “living up to your potential” is a bullshit philosophy. Here’s why: you may have the “potential” to accomplish a million different great things in life, especially if you come from privilege and/or are multi-talented. But the reality is that you only have the opportunity, energy, time, attention, and resources to do a small fraction of those things. And even then, luck gets in the way, and there’s most likely someone more talented, passionate, and hardworking out there who will outshine you. I was a fairly talented musician as a… Read more »

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