Is it important for a person to achieve their potential?

Potential is a word that people say a lot in various circumstances, but what does it really mean in terms of people, and is it actually important that we as individuals achieve our own potential, whatever that may be? Potential is a word that means that things could and have the ability to happen. But is the concept useful to use when thinking like this in terms of someone’s life? I think it can be because when someone has the potential to do something great with their life, shouldn’t they be doing everything in their power to make that happen? In an ideal world, I think they absolutely would try to make this happen. But unfortunately life isn’t always that simple as there may be other factors influencing such actions. Also, when it comes to other people’s opinions and looking at the existence of other individuals from an outside perspective, things can get complicated.

What is the potential of a person?

When I think of people saying this type of phrase, it is in terms of what they think someone else can being doing, or eventually do with their lives, but I suppose it could be used in many different contexts. If someone is good at a particular subject at school, or has a particular skill and they end up not using it to whatever end, then in this example they are not achieving their potential. Although, they are only perhaps not achieving it because they are not doing something that is worthwhile, and on par with what they could be doing. If they are doing something better, then their potential could have been realised in a different way. This therefore shows that such potential is subjective to whoever is looking at this persons achievements, and can differ from one person to next.

But, does it matter what other people think? I don’t think it does, not really. I say not really because no it doesn’t matter what people think as long as a person is happy, and I do stress this point because at the end of the day, we all have to be happy with what we are doing with our lives and not live that life according to someone else’s views. However, another person’s opinion could sometimes unlock a person’s thinking into what else they could be doing or give them an idea to use whatever unused talent they have which they didn’t realise they could be using. Ultimately though, everyone should do with their lives whatever makes them happy.

Why could someone not act on their potential?

Of course, what one person may think is someone else’s potential, may mean nothing to the actual person. After all, it is up to the person what they do with their life and whether they use any knowledge or skills they may have for a better function. Those perceived attributes may not be exactly what an outside person believes, or such a person may just not want to use them in a certain way. I think people naturally comment on other people’s lives, whether that be to themselves or by talking to other people, but such comments and opinions can have both good and bad outcomes. Because, unfortunately people don’t always say how they are feeling, this could also be the case for the topic in this article. Comments on what a person is doing with their life can be harmful, and any reaction to them may not be the true extent of what is thought. It could touch a nerve and make someone reassess what they are doing, but it could also make them feel more like they are not achieving what they should be. Because, what if a person wants to achieve their full potential but they think they can’t? There may be many reasons for why this happens, but I think self-doubt is a major factor. Experiencing self-doubt, not believing in yourself and many other self-generated pitfalls can be detrimental to anyone achieving the potential they have in whatever attribute they possess. Other people meddling in this can have negative effects and just exacerbate feelings of uncertainty and a lack of confidence in their life.

How do you overcome self-doubt?

I don’t think there is one easy and generalisable answer for how someone can overcome any self-doubt they have, and there are many external factors that would affect there from being one. Someone doubting themselves can derive from various reasons in their life, and is something that may be beneficial for the person to look into and explore. A person’s core reason for doubting their self may have roots in past experiences or derive from knowledge for any potential downfalls that could happen from pursuing whatever it is they are afraid of doing. So everyone is different and there is no way of knowing exactly how to overcome this doubt, but just knowing it is there could be a positive element in the process of trying to change it. Let’s take an example; someone who is a good guitar player may enjoy playing and could know that they are quite good, with other people also telling them they are. They may also be told by other people that they have the potential to make a career out of music, with perhaps joining a band or doing something else with their guitar playing. But this person doesn’t think they actually are good enough to go further with it. But why is this? That is the element that the person could explore; when did they first experience this self-doubt? Is it that they actually do know they are as good as people say they are, but there is something holding them back from fully comprehending this? Do they really want to have a career playing the guitar? If they do, then they are not achieving their potential. If they want a different career and just play the guitar as a hobby, then that’s alright because they want to achieve their potential another way, and a way that would hopefully make them happier. Just because someone could do something, it doesn’t mean they should, because doing something for the reason of thinking they should, and not because they want to do it, can bring with it a lot more problems in the future.

I’m sure that different people would overcome self-doubt in different ways, and that way would be personal to the individual and dependent on the reasons behind it. But I hope that, like with many things, by understanding that it is there can start the process of dealing with it and hopefully overcoming the hurdle that it creates. Talking is usually the first step with difficulties like these, and can be used to positively deal them.

Potential is something everyone has, whether it is the potential to be brilliant at a skill such as singing, dancing, playing a sport, or even listening to others; or to use their knowledge for the greater good, such as becoming a great teacher, a doctor or even a business owner. There are endless possibilities for how a person can potentially be the best at whatever attribute(s) they have. That potential can be overlooked for other things, but if nothing is used in its place and such a potential isn’t achieved then it can become a negative for a person. I think a person achieving their potential is only important if it means something to them, but the concern could be that they may only realise it when it’s too late to do anything about it. It is tricky, because does someone actively pursue something because of the possible regret to not? That is something only each individual can decide. I think most people know, at least on some level, if they are not achieving all they can, but it is important they are happy with what they are doing in their lives. Achieving potential is usually spoken about in the context this article has focused on, but perhaps the only important way of achieving potential in us all is actually being happy in ourselves, because that can be something that is not always achieved.

Not achieving our goals can be linked to low self-esteen. To understand why it doesn't have to be this way, read our article "Why do I question my self-worth?"

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach