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Living up to your potential

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the idea of living up to one’s potential.


In addition to the writing and social media marketing work I do as a freelancer, I also have a part time job with a senior move management company. We work with mostly senior adults who are downsizing from their larger homes into senior or assisted living communities. Often the new spaces are much, much smaller than their current houses, and we help to declutter and eliminate the kinds of things you can accumulate when you live in the same large house for 40+ years.


It’s taught me a couple of things – one, no one cares about your things as much as you do; and two, you really don’t need as many things as you think. I am not one to hoard or hang onto things anyway, and working at this job has made me an even bigger minimalist.

That’s not what this blog is about, though.


We don’t often work with younger people, but recently we moved a woman who was my age, more or less. She was moving from one beautiful high-rise to another. She was organized, had excellent taste, and was clearly doing well for herself. An executive at a big company, she reminded me of the path I was on at CNN Sales Marketing, until I was laid off in 2011.


Over the course of the last decade, since that day in July when I left CNN, I have wondered what might have been, had I not been laid off. At the time it was both humiliating and a great relief. I did not enjoy the environment, the constant pressure to make more and more money, and to create something out of nothing for clients. I worked closely with editorial and sales, building sponsorships that were sellable for the sales team and palatable for the editorial team. It was hard work but I was really, really good at it, and it paid really, really well.


What I wasn’t so great at were office politics, managing up, and keeping my mouth shut. Dealing with those issues made me crazy, and wore me down over the 11 years I was in sales marketing. By the time I got laid off, I was as tired of working there as they were tired of dealing with me.


I have often wondered what might have been, had I been the type to play the office politics game, or to just keep my mouth shut and do what I was told. Would I have climbed the corporate ladder? Would I be an EVP or SVP or some kind of VP? Would I be making bank? Would I not worry about money or retirement or whether or not I had enough money in my checking account?


Would that have been living up to my potential?


I see powerful executive women on panels, making news, giving interviews about life and work and how to shatter a glass ceiling. I see them everywhere and wonder if that’s something I should have aspired to be. I’m smart enough, I was good enough at my job, and I have the same kinds of experiences. I could have a lot to share. I had the potential to be one of those women.


I never did want that life, though. All I ever wanted to do was write, and that’s what I do for a living now. I write and get paid for it. I’ve written a book, and now I’m trying to get representation for it. I write.


As happy as I am to be a writer, I still wonder if I am somehow, somewhat of a failure for not making it to the top of some corporate ladder.


But just because I COULD have done something, doesn’t mean that was the correct path for me.


In my internet searches about potential, I found a blog post on tinybuddha.com that really hit home. An Bourmanne, a life coach, wrote that there are three lies we need to eliminate before we can really live up to our full potential.


1. It’s productive to beat ourselves up about not living up to our full potential.


I think we all know you catch more flies with honey, and that positive reinforcement is a better training method for just about anything that needs training – dogs, kids, horses, gerbils, probably everything except cats. The only way to train a cat is to find a cat who wants to do training. Good luck with that.


So why do we beat ourselves up and think it’s motivational? I can’t count the number of times I’ve lain awake at night and gone over every mistake I ever made in my career, and thought what might have happened if I had somehow changed who I was or how I behaved in order to be what people wanted, as if contorting myself into someone else would have made everything better.


It would have made it better for everyone except me.


2. Living up to our full potential means living a life free of fear, failure, and sorrow.


Everything in my life would be absolutely perfect without any more failure if I were living up to my potential. There’s no way that is possible. Nothing is ever perfect, without fear or failure. If you’re not failing at something, you’re not trying to learn. “Living up to our full potential means seeing things as they are, not the way we think they should be, and taking action from that place.”


3. We’re not good enough.


Because I am not a big rich executive giving TED talks and appearing on business shows, I am not good enough. I have failed to be the best that I can be, and therefore am not good enough.


Except I am good enough.


I’m a good writer. My clients like my work and enjoy editing it, because there isn’t much to edit. I’m a good friend. I’m a good (possibly amazing, depending on the day) pet owner. I’m a good neighbor. I’m good enough at so many things, why should I waste one minute thinking about what might have been? Especially if that might have been was dependent on me completely changing my personality?


According to Bourmanne, “Living up to my full potential is doing my thing, one tiny step at a time, at my pace, in my own fabulous, imperfect way.”


That, I can live with.


By the way, that fabulous executive whose home we packed up?


She was on a conference call for more than 2 hours while we were there packing up, which reminded me of what my days would really be like if I were her.


As me, I am typing in my lovely sunroom with my dog asleep beside me, working in my yoga pants because I just did Pilates in my living room.


And I am writing what I want to write, for clients I like, and getting paid enough to live on.


I think I’m doing just fine living up to my potential.

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