How To Live Up to Your Greatest Potential
If you want to make more of your talents – live up to your full potential
– you have to learn to use them. You have the power to change your habits
– to acquire new skills and fully use the skills you now have. You can
improve your performance, your productivity, and the quality of your whole
What makes a high achiever? Is it luck, intelligence, talent, dedication?
All of these things figure in – they all make a difference. But we all
know intelligent, talented, hard-working people who do not consider
themselves very successful or even happy. And we know people who are not
exceptionally bright but seem happy and successful.
So there must be something else, some secret to success. Actually there
are several secrets to achieving your peak performance – living up to your
Your success at business, friendship, love, sports – just about anything
you try – is largely determined by your own self-image. Your unhappiness
is something you choose. So, you’re thinking no one chooses to be unhappy.
Well, maybe not – but you have to consciously choose to be happy,
self-confident, and successful.
Happiness is elusive when we go after it directly. So is self-confidence.
Both seem to be more “side-products” than something you can achieve in and
for itself. So how, then, can consciously choosing to be these things be
of any value? Well, the secret is to focus on other things.
First, focus on your potential. Begin by making a complete and accurate
assessment of your potential. To do this you must take an inventory of
yourself – you will make a few lists. Sit down and make a list of all the
things you can do well. Be honest with yourself. When that list is done,
make a list of all the things you like to do, even if you think you can’t
do them well. Then, make a list of all the things you would like to do, if
you could. Now list your hobbies.
Then, go back to the list of things you can do well. You are probably
being much too hard on yourself. Most of us are. We have this little
voice in our heads telling us things like: “You’re so dumb,” or “You can’t
learn to do that,” or “You never do anything right,” or similar nasty
things. And even worse, we listen to that voice as if it’s telling us the
gospel truth. So now, shut off that voice – you can do it – and add a few
more things to the list of things you can do well. Pretend you are your
best friend – it’s amazing how much more forgiving and charitable we are
with our friends than we are with ourselves. Now that you are your best
friend, you should be able to add a few more items to your “do well” list.
But do be honest – don’t list things you feel you really can’t do well.
Next, go to your list of things you like to do but you feel you don’t do
well. Speaking as your own best friend, do you think there are some things
on this list that could be moved to your “do well” list? There probably
are. If you like to do it, chances are you do pretty well at it. Treat
your hobby list in the same manner.
Next, go to your list of things you would like to do if you could. Ask
yourself, “Why can’t I do this, if I’d like to?” Put your reasons on
another list. OK. So you have a lot of lists going – what good is that
going to do? Well, you have just made an assessment of yourself. If you
have been truly honest in making these lists, it may even be a fairly
accurate assessment. Probably it isn’t, but that’s OK. This assessment
isn’t carved in stone. It’s subject to change. But for now we will work
with what’s on the lists. At least you have a place to start.
Look over your lists again. You are focusing on all the things you feel
you can’t do and the reasons why you can’t do them, right? Well, don’t.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO – FOCUS ON YOUR POTENTIAL. Make it a habit to
focus on your strengths. Don’t forget to include your undeveloped
potential, as well. Train yourself to focus on your potential instead of
Now that’s not to say that you should ignore your list of reasons for not
doing some of the things you would like to do. Not at all! But look at
them from the viewpoint of your strengths. For instance, you’d like to
play basketball but you think you are too short, so you don’t even try. In
this case, you are looking at it from the viewpoint of your limitations.
Now, when you look at it from the viewpoint of your strengths, you would
say, “Well, I may be pretty short to play, BUT I am fast. I can handle the
ball well. I have a lot of stamina. I can’t change being short, but I can
refuse to let my limitations overcome my strengths.”
You see the difference? Focusing on your limitations lets those
limitations make your decisions for you. Focusing on your strengths lets
YOU make the decision. To go back to our example: when you’ve decided to
overcome your height limitations to play basketball – something you really
want to do – you will be more determined to develop your strengths to
compensate. You will do well, because you will be doing what you really
want to do and you will be determined to develop the full potential of your
strengths. Very few people concentrate on fully developing any of their
strengths. That’s where you will have the edge. You know your true
disadvantages but your determination, your singleness of purpose, will
inspire you to fully develop the talents and skills you do have.
OK. You probably have no interest in playing basketball. Then go to your
assessment of yourself. What do you have a major interest in? What do you
have a natural aptitude for? Go for it. Devote yourself to something you
really like to do. Don’t choose something just because you think you could
make more money at it than you could by doing something else that you would
really rather work at. You won’t work to develop your full potential. You
may start out with enthusiasm, but you will soon flag. It will be a chore
to go to work. You’ll probably find yourself hating to go. It’ll be
difficult to work on improving your skills because you don’t like what you
are doing. You probably won’t be working up to your potential. Your
success will probably be limited by your growing lack of interest and your
happiness will surely be affected.
If, however, you devote yourself to something you really like to do, you’ll
enjoy your work, you’ll be enthusiastic, and you’ll probably find yourself
working on improving your skills just for the sheer joy of it. You will be
working to reach your full potential. You’ll probably soon find you are
making more money at this truly interesting occupation than you ever
dreamed possible. And because you like what you are doing, you will be
When you know you are working to your full potential and you enjoy your
work and begin to feel successful, you will find that self-confidence and
happiness soon follow.
But, you must be realistic and honest with yourself. If you set goals that
you can’t possibly reach, you are setting yourself up for failure. You
will make yourself frustrated and unhappy. The key here is a realistic and
honest assessment of your potential.
Although most people will be unnecessarily harsh in their assessments, it
is easy to become too hopeful when you start breaking down barriers. If,
for instance, you’re extremely interested in and fond of music and would
love to be a singer, it would be unreasonable to set a singing career as
your goal if you can’t sing a note (some talents are inborn). But if you
are knowledgeable about the music business and would be happy being
involved in some other capacity, then it would be reasonable to pursue a
career in the business.
Be wary of making otherwise perfectly reasonable goals unattainable because
of stringent time frames. When you set a goal, you will most likely set
times for achieving certain steps along your way to achieving your final
goal. Even if you don’t set the time frames formally, you will probably
have a pretty good idea of how long you are giving yourself. It’s wise to
sit down and formally set these goals. Think about it and give yourself
reasonable time to achieve them. Make a deal with yourself to view these
time limits as flexible.
Don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes
finding our place takes both time and error. All of us experience failures
of one magnitude or another. The key is to view the failures as a learning
experience – if nothing else, failures teach us what not to do. Remain
flexible. As long as you keep focusing on your strengths and potential,
the right thing will come along – and probably sooner rather than later.
But don’t quit at the first sign of boredom. Even if you have truly found
your niche, you will not feel enthusiastic 100 percent of the time.
Don’t worry about others – don’t compare your progress with that of others.
No matter how successful you are, there will be someone else who, to you,
looks like she’s got it made – who looks like she’s getting where you want
to go faster and easier than you are. Maybe she is. Maybe she isn’t. Who
cares? Focus on your own achievements. Work to develop your skills and
talents to their full potential. Compete with yourself – your short term
goals should be based on today’s accomplishments. If you have reached
Point A today, make Point B your next objective – improve yourself and
don’t worry about the other guy.
OK. You have decided what your ultimate goal is. Make sure it is a
definitely defined goal. “Someday I want to be famous” just won’t cut it.
Define exactly what you want to do. Define a reasonable time frame. Know
what you have to do to get there. You don’t need to know every little
detail, but you do have to have the big picture and many of the details.
If you have a goal in mind but don’t know what it takes to reach it, then
you need to find out. Do some reading, talk to people who know, ask
questions and LISTEN to the answers. Think that sounds like a lot of work?
Well, remember what you are preparing for – your success and happiness.
Surely you want to put a little effort into that! Anyway, a little
reseach into what it will take for you to reach your goals isn’t too
Train yourself into making this “research” the next focus of your life.
You will be focusing on your strengths, on your purpose, and on learning
and doing. If you have chosen a goal that is right for you, focusing on
these things and devoting the necessary time should not be too difficult.
It may take a bit of self-discipline at first, but your determination and
interest will carry you through until the focusing process becomes a habit.
When you have a real desire to accomplish something, initiatative should
only require an occasional shove – but you may need to give it a nudge now
Get into the habit of visualizing your success. Now sitting around and
daydreaming in generalizations about it is not what we mean. You need to
visualize specifics. To return to the basketball example, daydreaming
about being carried off the court on your teammates’ shoulders is just
daydreaming. Picturing in your mind how you will work a play if your
opponent makes a particular move, picturing your exact response to it, is
visualizing specifics. If you run through specific moves in your mind, you
will be prepared when the need for those moves arises.
Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to visualize new and better ways to
accomplish things, as well. Here in your mind, you can try doing things in
ways that are different from the usual. This is a creative process – you
may have heard of creative thinking. Training yourself to think creatively
is largely learning to let your imagination work on methods that are
different from the “way things have always been done.” It’s breaking away
from the idea that a thing can be done effectively in only one way. It’s
looking at a problem from all angles. Just play a game of “what if.” Ask
yourself, “What if I did this thing this way?” It’s OK to get a little
crazy sometimes. But, you must also spend some of your thinking time at
specific visualizations of the moves you need to make to accomplish your
Visualizations are important but actual physical practice of your skills is
important, too. Practice the boring little skills that are necessary as
well as the skills that you enjoy. Don’t let yourself rely on just the
things that come naturally and easy to you. Develop your limited
potentials as well as those that you feel are your assets.
Work on developing the more general attributes that are important to almost
Success comes more easily to those who have a pleasing personality. This
is not to say that you should bend to eveyone’s wishes or scrape and bow.
Rather, develop an attitude that is respectful of other’s opinions but true
to your own beliefs. Be flexible – don’t be so rigid that you can’t accept
another’s opinion when it is superior to your own. Be willing, even eager,
to learn from others. Changing your opinion in light of more facts is a
sign of strength of character, not weakness. Be willing to extend a
helpful hand, be a team player. Develop a sense of humor. Be polite and
caring – but be your own person.
Learn to guard against emotional responses. You are susceptible to errors
of judgement when you let your emotions get in the way. Of course,
everything we do is done based somewhat on our emotions, but strong
emotions have little place in decision making. Hold your emotions in
check. Try to delay decisions if you are in an emotional state. Learn to
ignore your emotions and use reasoning to arrive at your decisions.
Develop the habit of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm works like a magnet – it draws
people and success. It’s a pleasing personality trait that people like to
be a part of. It seems to be contagious – the people around you become
enthusiastic, too, and become more cooperative. Enthusiasm sparks
initiative and singleness of purpose.
We’ve talked of working to develop habits – the habit of focusing on your
goals, the habit of focusing on your strengths, the habit of learning and
“researching,” the habit of visualizing, the habit of enthusiasm. Now we
will talk of habits in a little different light – breaking them. First,
assess your habits looking for the ones that may be displeasing to others.
Offensive habits can hold you back from success – they are often a part of
an unpleasing personality. Look for things like grumbling or grunting at
people instead of answering, gazing at anything but the speaker when
conversing, smirking or sneering when you don’t agree – anything that is an
automatic, displeasing mannerism. It will be very difficult to assess your
habits accurately. After all, a habit is something that we do without
thinking much about it. You will have to spend some time at this and be
very conscious of yourself. Ask someone you trust to help you with this
assessment. It may take a lot of work to break yourself of displeasing
habits. Try substituting a different, more pleasing behavior for the habit
you wish to break.
OK. You have set definite goals, you have a definiteness of purpose, you
have researched and know the specific steps to take to achieve the goals,
you have resolved to be flexible and to develop a more pleasing
personality. Now what?
Well, just because you have a clear purpose, know what you want, are
willing to work on developing your potential, and willing to be a nice
person, success will not drop into your lap overnight.
You will probably find that one of your first steps in achieving your goals
will be to take a job somewhat below where you hope eventually to be. But
you’ve already analyzed the steps to your goal, so you presumably have
planned for this. However, you do want to advance and, of course, as
quickly as possible.
As you advance toward your goals, you will undoubtedly run up against some
difficult people (maybe even difficult bosses), and there will be times
you’ll need to deal effectively with them. Since you are working on
becoming a nice, enthusiastic person and a team player, you already have
half the battle won. Your attitude is as important as the other guy’s
attitude when you are dealing with difficult people.
Always keep in mind that your job is a training field for you. You are
getting paid as you learn the things you need to know to achieve your
goals. Pretty good deal, right? If you view your job as a paid
opportunity to advance toward your goals, you will be an asset to your
boss. You will also be a happier, more productive person. Viewing your
job in this manner will allow you to view the difficult people you will
inevitably need to deal with as an opportunity to grow. From them and the
situations they create, you will learn to negotiate with, side-step around,
and draw out the best in others without letting yourself become upset.
Each time you successfully deal with one of these people you will gain
confidence and probably friends to add to your support network. The skill
of negotiating with difficult people and the confidence you have gained
from these encounters comes in handy when you are ready to ask for a
promotion or raise – even if your boss happens to be a nice person.
Successful negotiation is not a contest of wills – it is working together
to solve a problem or come to an agreement. It is an opportunity to learn
how others feel about the issue.
Always be prepared. Know who you are talking with. Always know as much as
possible about the person. Know about the person’s marital status, family,
hobbies, education, difficulties, attitudes, and whatever else you can
learn. The information may give you an understanding of the person. If
you know the circumstances, you will more easily find the most effective
way to get your point across. At the very least, the information will make
the person seem more familiar which will give you more self-confidence.
Know the issue – not just your opinions about it. Be able to back up your
opinions with reasons and research. If you are asking for a promotion,
know the demands of the job in question. Know and be honest about how much
of the job you are already qualified to do and how much additional training
you will need. If you may not be as qualified as someone else applying, be
prepared to negotiate for a smaller-than-offered salary until you are fully
trained – remember the training is worth a lot to you. Be enthusiastic and
focus on your strengths – don’t boast but give an a simple and accurate
listing of the strengths you feel make you a good candidate for this job.
The strengths you cite can and should include specific job related skills,
your present accomplishments on the job, your interest in the field (not
just this job), your enthusiasm, your ability to work as a team member, and
other personal traits that will be an asset on the job.
Always enter into negotiations with a calm and reasonable manner. Don’t
let emotion and emotional outbursts have a place at the negotiating table.
You must be in control of yourself if you want to get your point across.
People are more likely to listen to your views if you present them in a
calm and reasonable manner. Present your ideas with conviction but don’t
try to intimidate others or be demanding. State your views simply,
completely, and orderly. When you are expressing an opinion rather than a
fact, use a qualifying “I think” or “In my opinion.” When others are
expressing their views, listen carefully and ask questions if something
isn’t clear. Don’t disagree until you are sure you understand their
position. When you do disagree, do so in a pleasant non-threatening way.
“I see what you mean, but . . .” or “I can understand why you think that,
but . . .” are a couple of good ways to begin a statement of disagreement.
Be courteous and leave them a chance to save face.
Be prepared to face people who are not calm and reasonable. Don’t let them
get to you. Remain calm and reasonable and even be a little sympathetic.
Let’s say you have entered into negotiations with your boss for a raise and
he blows up with, “I can’t afford to give you a raise. This business isn’t
exactly a gold mine. Don’t you realize how tough times are?” Remain calm.
Put yourself in his shoes. Try to find something you can agree and
sympathize with. For instance, look sympathetic and agree, “I know you
have a lot of expenses and you work hard to keep this business going. It
must be really difficult for you sometimes.” This will probably not be the
response he expects. It will probably take the wind out of his sails.
Most likely he will calm down, and since you are sympathetic to his
problems, he’ll be more willing to listen to you. If you remain calm,
reasonable, and sympathetic, he will calm down. When he is calmer, discuss
with him the reasons you are a valuable asset to him. Don’t threaten but
calmly and reasonably discuss the bargain a small raise is. With that
small raise, he’ll be keeping a happy and fully trained employee who knows
the company. When you consider the expense of finding and training another
individual, giving you a raise is a bargain for your boss.
Play “Let’s Make A Deal.” Be prepared to deal. Don’t expect to get
everything you want. If you are willing to gracefully make some
concessions, you will be more likely to arrive at a satisfactory deal.
After all, a negotiation has at least two opposing sides. This means
someone else has something they want, too – even if that something is
simply to leave things as they are. Arrive at a compromise that everyone
can live with. Remember, you are working at long-range goals, and you may
be negotiating with them again.
Developing your potential more fully is a key to happiness and fulfillment.
Although we have primarily discussed this in terms of a job, these same
concepts can be used in many other areas of your life.
In developing your potential to it’s fullest, you will want to become a
more efficient person – get more done in less time – so you can take full
advantage of the opportunities that you make for yourself. You will note
that most effective, successful people seem to accomplish a great deal.
It’s true that this is partly due to enthusiasm, but there’s more to it.
The first barrier to efficiency is procrastination – putting off getting
started. Sometimes you know you are procrastinating. You may not want to
do the task at hand so you keep putting it off until tomorrow. The thing
to do is to look at it from a different angle. If it’ll have to be done
sometime, tell yourself, “why not do it now, and get it off your back.”
And that’s just where it is! On your back dragging you down. Putting
things off makes everything harder to do. If you keep putting things off,
you’ll soon have several things piling up, and then the sheer number of
tasks you have backed up will make it seem impossible to ever get caught
up. This affects everything you do try to do.
Sometimes you don’t even realize you are putting things off. You may keep
yourself extremely busy doing things of little importance to unconsciously
give yourself excuses for doing the things you really should be doing. You
say to yourself, “Look how busy I am. I just can’t get everything done.”
But the result is the same as when you know you are procrastinating. It
soon bogs you down. All you are doing is “running in place.”
So how do you beat procrastination?
The first step in beating procrastination is to admit to yourself how often
you do it and assessing your methods of doing it. Not very difficult,
really, when you become aware of the tactics some of us use to hide from
ourselves what we are doing.
The key in overcoming procrastination and becoming more efficient is
organization. Plan ahead. Know what you want to accomplish today, this
week, and in the long haul.
Make lists. The lists for today will probably be more detailed than the
longer-term lists. That’s OK. Now look over the lists and rank the tasks
in order of importance. Make three or four groupings based on importance.
Within each group, star the things you least like to do.
Each day you will have a “today” list to work on. Tackle the tasks that
are most important first. If you have several “most important” tasks on
your list, take on the least liked things in that grouping before you do
the better liked ones. When you have accomplished a task, check it off.
You’ll be surprised what a good feeling you have when you check things off.
What a sense of accomplishment! It’s an incentive to do the next task on
the list. When you have completed the tasks in the first grouping, begin
on the list of next importance. Again do the starred items in that group
first. Keep on checking things off as you get them done.
Do you see what is happening? You get the most pressing, least liked tasks
out of the way early in the day when you are fresh and rested. As the day
goes on you will feel less and less pressure. You have reserved the less
important tasks for the end of the day when you will be more tired.
With this system you will have not only increased your efficiency but also
reduced some of the stress in your day. Stress can get in the way of
efficiency. Your new efficiency will help you develop your potential. It
is, in fact, a part of living up to your potential.
Another important part of efficiency is in delegating work. If you are in
a position where you have assistants or designated people under your
supervision, you need to learn to delegate. If you are not in such a
position yet, you still need to know – since you’re working on developing
your potential you very likely will be some day.
Delegating work is difficult for many people. Some find it hard to ask
others to do things for them – others find it hard not to demand that
others do tasks. Delegating is an art.
First, you need to realize that the people under your supervision are
PEOPLE. Seldom, if ever, should you demand – that takes away self respect.
In order to achieve a happy and co-operative crew, you need to help them
build self-respect and self-confidence. A happy and co-operative crew is
an asset to you. Demands do not promote self-respect and co-operation.
Oh, it’s probably effective to demand in the short run – but in the long
run you will be better off to gain co-operation without demanding.
People who are asked to do a task, are given explanations and clear
instructions, and are praised for a job well done will grow in
self-respect. They will also respect you as a good supervisor. If you
hesitate to ask for their assistance, your crew will feel that you do not
trust them or have faith in their abilities. This affects their
self-respect and, as a reaction, will affect their respect for you, as
When you delegate work, don’t delegate just the “junk” tasks. Your crew
needs to be given some important tasks to do as well as unimportant ones.
The important task gives them a sense of the respect you have for them and
the faith you have in their abilities. It’s a good idea to save some
“junk” tasks for yourself. Perhaps the most respected and effective boss
is the one about whom the crew says, “She never gives us anything to do
that she wouldn’t do herself.” Why? Because, by her actions the boss is
saying that, though her position is above theirs, she is still just “plain
Delegation of tasks is important because you can gain in effectiveness and
get more done if you properly supervise a crew. Don’t feel embarrassed or
hesitant about delegating work. If it helps you to shine, it helps your
crew shine, too. A well-run, effective department is a credit to the whole
team. With proper delegating, you can help your crew achieve their
potential as well as achieving your own.
All of us have untapped potential – perhaps even areas of genius – that we
have neglected to develop. Whether your concept of success has to do with
business, love, friendship, sports, a combination of these or something
else, more fully developing your potential will help you achieve your
goals. If you can learn to assess your potential, set realistic goals,
and go after those goals with determination, organization, and purpose, you
will use your potential more fully, gain confidence, and be a happier and
more successful person.