Potential / by Michelle Cowan

I got to thinking about potential today – how our American culture seems, at some level, obsessed with living up to one's potential. When will we wake up and see the truth? No one, not even the most successful among us, lives up to their potential.

There are several different ways to approach this topic. Dating, for instance.  I've dated many people based on their potential, and I can't express how monumentally disappointing that's been.  Even if people change or grow, they still rarely match up with the wonderful ideal I build of them in my head. The day inevitably comes when I have to admit that this person I'm dating is not the same as the idealized potential person I've been carrying around in my mind. They are who they are. And that person isn't the right one for me.

Another way to look at it is more personal.  Am I living up to my potential? At least 98% of the time, I don't believe I am. From my perspective, I am filled with infinite potential, and my mind rather recklessly believes that I can attain the fullest expression of that potential. But practically (and obviously), I cannot. Infinite potential?  Definitely not attainable. Infinity 101.

So then, I wonder if I need to erect some kind of slightly sub-infinite version of the potential me. I may never be able to be the perfect person in my head, but perhaps I can be something close to it. Once again, this is a trap. Which parts of my infinite potential do I give up?  Which parts do I alter? Which pieces do I remove?  To take away pieces of my potential is to take away pieces of myself and to blind myself to the kind of creation I actually am. I'm creating a kind of Frankenstein monster that I think I'm more likely to evolve into, which completely devalues who I really am.

The truth is: I AM my fullest potential.  At all times, my potential lives actively within me. There is no "living up" to it or attaining it.  At certain times, the light of my potential emanates from me more than others. But all the while, it exists.  It flourishes in my soul.

The trap that ensnares me is the idea that this potential should manifest itself in particular ways. One lie tells me that because I have a vast reservoir of untapped musical talent, I should have a lucrative and respected musical career. This belief traps me. It seems like a reasonable goal, and because it seems reasonable, my mind decides it has a right to beat me up about not achieving it – at least, not achieving the version of it that I see in my head.

Under my reservoir of musical talent is a base-level propensity toward creativity. I am a person who takes ideas and makes them real. Songwriting is only one form of creation. This part of my soul manifests in other ways. The problem here is that I value certain manifestations above others. In fact, some manifestations are entirely invisible to me. For instance, I feel quite accomplished when I finish a song, send a thoughtful card in the mail, or write a blog post. These are measureable feats for which I can pat myself on the back. On the other hand, I devalue activities like writing in my journal, cleaning my home, rearranging the pillows on my bed, planning the day ahead, drawing while watching television, or calling a friend just because I thought of him.

All these activities could be expressions of creativity. I'm bringing ideas into the physical realm. But somehow, I miss it.  I miss the fact that I am expressing my potential at all times. I miss the reality that my potential can be called upon at any time, in all situations. I miss all the wonderful things I do and the wonderful person I am even when I do nothing.

When I think I'm not living up to my potential, I beat myself up. I tell myself that I could be doing more, saying more, or making more.  I always need to be "more" than I am.

But there is no "more" than I am.  I am already all of me.

It's been instilled in me as an American that I need to find a way to use every ounce of potential I possess to create a life and, really, a person named Michelle that lives up to all she is "meant" to be. I have somehow been taught to think that I have to work very hard to make this happen.

These days, I suspect that I don’t need to work very hard at all to live up to my potential. The way to be the full, rich person I am is, instead, to let go. Everything I hold onto only holds me back. I have to let go of ideas about who I should be. I have to let go of rules I've accepted or set for myself. I have to let go of dreams. I have to let go of problems. I have to let go of friends, of lovers, and of having everything the way I want it.

When I let go, I fall into the hand of a higher power that knows exactly where I need to be.  That higher power knows exactly who I am – all of my potential – even if no one else does. The natural world supports me letting go and flowing along to its rhythm.

When I let go of trying, I become exactly who I really am, and that person might surprise me. I may think I know what my fullest potential is, but the truth is that I have no clue. Why try to live up to an image of Michelle that may not be anything like me?  For all I know, I am so far from my true potential, the only thing that will get me there is to completely let go and fall for miles into a completely new life and way of thinking.

For today, I give up the search for potential. Today, I know that I am already living up to my potential and that I am loved and accepted by everything that matters most. I am today. I show up for today. And daily, I am becoming a greater expression of the beautiful light that lives within me, even if I can' see it.