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?
Author: Sam Dogen
Sam spent 13 years working on Wall Street in the equities department at a couple bulge bracket firms before deciding to focus full time on Financial Samurai, a personal finance site that helps you slice through money's mysteries. Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business and his Bachelor of Arts in economics from The College of William & Mary. He is a registered representative (Series 7 and Series 63).
Sam is based in San Francisco, California, and enjoys playing league tennis, poker, and anything that deals with the great outdoors. Sam's goal is to live a location-independent lifestyle by generating enough passive income to take care of a family of four.