Every human is a deep well of unused potential, a potential that has the power to transform the course of our shared future. The world thirsts for the waters stored in each individual. The world longs for the hidden talents and gifts stunted crowds have to offer and I feel the need to howl, to cry out, to awaken, to empower the crowds to do so, to seize all that is possible.
When I look around I see so much unused potential in people. I see words of forgiveness to be spoken, characters to be changed, desires to be renewed, I see work to be done, muscles to be built, and first and foremost I see choices to be made. The same I see inside of me, in fact, thanks to my inner privation I became attuned to see the spark in others. There is an abundance of potential, waiting to be unleashed in all of us. All of us have a space for improvement, be it in the occupations we have, in the characters we build, in who we are, in how we behave, in what we value, in what we think about, in what we support, in how we approach the mission we have in this world.
If we think we have nothing to contribute, we will not. If we think we cannot improve, we will not. If we think we cannot change, we will not. But we all have a share to contribute! Let it ring in all ears, we can improve! We can change! We can become better musicians, athletes, programmers, lawyers, doctors, investors, leaders, employees, students but also much better spouses, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, friends, citizens, and holistic individuals. It is this incessant self-improvement available to all that is at the heart of reaching one’s potential. We will never know how far does it reach, but we can try to get a glimpse, glimpse of the possible, to see how far our toil can carry us.
So why so few reach for the stars? Why so few try to get the glimpse of what they could become? The answer lies in our tendencies, desires, and beliefs. First, there is the double-edged word (yes, a word), contentment, that stunts growth and yet is essential to well-being, then there is the all-too-human tendency towards laziness, the cosmic inertia to continue in the current state, wasting one’s potential, then there is the human tendency to overextended self-assessment, there also is the disbelief in the human ability to change, and lastly, there is the spell that the luring baseness of the world has cast over people, enthralling them by basic instincts and materialism.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Contentment, the feeling of satisfaction and happiness, drawn from being at ease with one’s life situation, is a desirable state of mind, but only if it does not hinder action. It is irrational and irresponsible to use contentment as a way to avoid confronting our vices.
You can both be content and want to strive for more. The key is to know what to strive for, to know what is worth the toil. It makes no sense to be pleased with how good of a partner, friend or parent we are and have no desire to grow even more. We can always be a better partner, a better friend or a better parent, we can always be more attentive and less distracted, less selfish and more generous, bring more value and ask for less, we can always love more, show more appreciation, give more support and encouragement.
Contentment should not trick us into lethargy, believing everything is fine just as it is. I agree that in certain sense everything is fine just as it is, and it is important to cultivate that understanding, however, I think this can only be said after we achieve a level of self-mastery. You can be at ease with being a wreck, but if that does not propel you to action, something is wrong. You can be both content and wreck at the same time if you realize you have the power to change and are on the journey to do so, to a different, better you. To be content with yourself even when you have no control over your body and impulses and are worthless to your family, friends, and the world, is delusional, to say the least.
However, I want to emphasize that self-criticism does not preclude contentment. I myself see many holes to be filled in my character, behavior, and habits, yet I do not struggle with low self-esteem or with melancholy that we hope to eliminate by attaining a state of contentment, quite the opposite. Knowing I am capable to be better today than I was yesterday I feel free, happy, and in the fleeting moment of thought, I feel content.
Being a person who strives to reach their potential is a complete paradigm shift. False contentment is replaced with the question, what more can I do?
It is also easy to have a short stick against which we measure ourselves. At the end of the day, we are the ones looking into the mirror, we have to face who we are and how do we measure up to the standard we use. The ego will do its best to elevate what we see, not by improvement, but by lowering standards or making up new ones. Consider the following standards for contentment.
“I am good looking. I make a lot of money. I am better looking than her. I make more money than him. I have good hair, I have a big house, I have an expensive car. I know x,y, and z. I am famous. I’ve had sex with many women. I’ve been to x,y, and z.”
Now consider: “I am better today than I was yesterday. I am hard-working. I try to be generous and look for more ways to give. I have a lot of amazing people behind me and around me. I make the best use of my time. I strive to live life according to my code. Today I have done the work needed to fulfill our mission as a company. Today I worked on what I was called to do in my life. Today I tried to leave the world at least slightly better than it was yesterday. Today I grew in my ability to pay attention, to love, to forgive, to appreciate, to encourage, to speak the truth, to be genuine. Today I fought my ego. Today I gave.”
Do you see the difference? Which is more difficult to live out? Which leads to a more meaningful existence? And yet, which one also leads to more failures? It is the price we pay. We exchange toil, struggle, pain, inadequacy, for true contentment. I desire that we do not get deceived by what the ego offers, by the false contentment, and we try to live out this life to the fullest. Carpe diem! Seize the day, and then life!
It is difficult to struggle daily to get at least a smidgen closer to what you are capable of becoming. Most people love comfort more than excellence, they are content with who they are, most people do not want to live at the edge, failing every day, to reach in hope to grasp what they dreamed to become.
The fight against mediocrity is a fight against cosmic inertia, which lashes people down to their current state. Life at the edge sounds ludicrous because the sense of false contentment justifies the proclivity to stay the same, to stay in one’s comfort zone, to do nothing. To live life to the fullest, to see the magnificence your and my unimportant existence can achieve we have to set our direction upwards, use the cosmic inertia to our advantage, to set up life to be a continuous linear line of learning, ever closer to our potential, yet never there. It will be a daily struggle, it will be painful, disappointing at times, however, when you look back at the short time you had at this planet, you can look with no regrets, you squeezed the shit of it, sucked out all the marrow of life, you can be truly content.
Lies we tell ourselves
Another reason why people fail to reach their potential is that they lie to themselves about their capabilities, people tend to think they already arrived at the destination when they have barely begun the journey. I write about the human tendency towards self-delusion in an essay You Are Not As Good As You Think And Neither Am, if you would like to give it a peak.
How to tell whether you are deceiving yourself? A rule of thumb is to assume that our self-assessment always misses the reality, it almost always stretches too far, scarcely ever too little. We are not as good as we think and the sooner we accept the truth the sooner we initiate genuine growth. Correct self-assessment rips out the cloth ego used to patch up our holes. Thus, we have the chance to fill them up instead of using pitiful scraps. Leaving it to our ego is as useless and ridiculous as patching up holes with cloth in the marble of the great sculpture of David by Michelangelo (if there were any).
I do think most people apprehend there is always a place for growth hence I find it redundant to argue for, however, I think people fail to see how much work is there to be done, with me at the front. We can always push our limits further, to work towards greater skill, efficiency, craftsmanship. Likewise, there is no limit to how much we can give. Maybe you already are a friend everyone can rely upon, but you can always be more educated, and therefore you can always bring more value to the friendship. Maybe you already wrote three successful books but you have yet to share the knowledge you acquired over the years with other ambitious writers. Maybe you already have a successful company, and a thick bank account, but you keep being an asshole towards your siblings. There is always a place for improvement.
That does not mean you will be able to reach as high as all other people in all areas of your life. We all have a different level of capacity. Not all of us have the physical predisposition to be a basketball player, not everyone has the intelligence to be an astrophysicist, not everyone has the creativeness to be the new Salvador Dalí, but we all have our spheres that yearn for cultivation.
Another lie many believe is that there is no way to change oneself, that our characters are set in stone and the only option is to accept them. I plan to write a longer treatment of this topic later, however, to briefly respond, you are not free in the choices you make but you can work to overthrow the desires and tendencies that lead to the specific choices. To tackle the issue we can have a philosophical, sophisticated conversation or we can use a common-sense approach. I prefer careful treatments of topics such as free will, however, for the sake of brevity, I will opt for the common-sense approach now.
If you treat people like shit, then stop. If you are greedy, force yourself to give something away. If you are lazy find someone to keep you accountable who if you fail can take a specific item from you that you agreed upon beforehand, let’s say your motorcycle. Do what you got to do. Look for ways to win over yourself. Master yourself. There are no excuses. I do realize how hard it is to fight one’s tendencies, but for that very fact, I know it is possible, and I hope to provide the initial kick in the ass that propels you to action.
You might be asking yourself, who the hell is this guy telling me how should I live my life? I do not have a dramatic response. I do not want to pretend to have it all figured out. I do not want to pretend I am the author all of these ideas, or that they are in any way innovative. They are not. I am just a guy on his path to self-mastery that finally decided to reach out to the world around him, to touch at least one person and inspire them to a fuller existence like so many have done for me. I want to see others succeed. I want to see the world achieving its potential. I want to see the world full of individuals who are not victims of circumstance, who are the masters of themselves, who set the course for the ship of their life. So should you listen to me? I do not know. Decide for yourself. I am going to say the words that have to be said regardless.
So what now Andrej? I am going to make loads of money, become famous, have sex with many women, buy many houses and then I will reach my potential? I do not think you paid attention. First and foremost, if you desire riches, fame, sex, comfort, go ahead, there is nothing inherently wrong with them. The time when they become your sole focus, the reasons why you live, when they become your gods, is the problem. The society is trying to catch us into the trap of endless consumption. It is what governments enforce, for they assume that is how the economy grows and how capitalism functions.
Being content with lesser goods is the last trap many fall into, the lures of the material world, of instant gratification, which promise to satisfy our need for meaning. We are gorged up with new cars, new clothes, bigger houses, special furniture, with social media that provides an emotional boost in just a few clicks that equates to novelty our ancestors often did not experience within a month. Society is playing a trick on its people. It is similar to Brave New World. Be content with the current state, here is sex, soma, fellies, which will stimulate you to a point of lethargy and false contentment. Similar to Rome. Bread and circuses.
Yet movies, sex, intoxicants, material possessions are not inherently bad, what I claim is that they are bad if they deviate you from the course of living a meaningful life, if they are the source of contentment, of thinking you made it when you had not even begun, when they impede your path towards a better self.
No one is obligated to live up to their potential, to suck out the marrow of life, it is our choice to make. However, I think in everyone, regardless of intelligence, there is a potential for more, for a more intentional existence, for an increasingly rational, honest, caring, loving, self-aware existence. I wonder what would the world look like if every day we competed against ourselves if we tried to beat the person we were yesterday. What would the world look like if all people strived for excellence if all people became the captains of their ship? It is a long and difficult journey, full of hardships and failures, and yet inexpressibly beautiful, a journey that leads to true contentment.
When we then look back at life, we can look with no regrets, we took what we had been given, and used it as best as we could. To look at my life when I grow old without the regret, what if I had done more, is what drives me to seize the day, to try to live out my potential and I hope this article inspired you to live out yours.
Let us fight mediocrity, ceasing to believe the lies ego propagates, ceasing to believe the all-too-human excuse of our inability to change, let us fight laziness and the lure of the easier path, let us not be content until we have a reason for being so, and let us find content in the fact we mastered ourselves and are on a path to leave this world at least slightly better than if we had not existed.