Are You Scared that You May Never Fulfill Your True Potential?
Photo courtesy of Roberto Verzo.

Are You Scared that You May Never Fulfill Your True Potential?

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Confidence

Recently I wrote a post asking if there is a multipotentialite nemesis and one fear which seemed to strike a real chord, was being scared about never fulfilling our true potential.

It’s the fear we’ll never manage to actualize the abilities we know we have inside, that we have so much to offer the world, and yet, it may never come to fruition. You’ll know this feeling if you’ve ever found yourself wondering:

“I know I’ve got it in me to do something of value, but what if I never ‘get it out there’?”

It’s a fear which lurks deep within me. Sometimes its power becomes overbearing as I realize, with each birthday that passes, that I have less and less years in which to do this thing (or things) I feel I’m capable of.

If your multipotentiality is characterized by jumping between interests on a regular basis, or your past is littered with a trail of half-finished projects, then you’ll truly identify with the difficulties involved in creating something of substance, rather than of transience.

I’m Not Seeking to Change the Nature of our Multi-ness

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not seeking to change our very nature, or turn us all into pseudo-specialists, but rather to investigate whether there’s a mechanism by which we can make fulfilling our potential more multipod-friendly.

I have a sneaky suspicion that most multipotentialites either are, or have the potential to be, very high achievers. We don’t spend our time obsessed with learning and experiencing so much, without developing an incredible internal library of skills and resources.

Fulfilling potential is something which specialists dedicate their lives to. They become experts in their chosen field, gathering degrees, diplomas, doctorates and professorships as they go.

It’s far easier to fulfill (and evidence) your potential if you spend your lifetime focused in one specific field, but that’s not the multipotentialite way. While we may have the academic aptitude, committing to that many years of singular-subject study may not look overly enticing.

A Draft Framework for Your Life’s Work (Multipotentialite Style)

I’ve been wondering if there is a different way to approach the demonstration of achievement that doesn’t involve needing a singular focus. Here are some ideas which I’d like to put to you, which I hope could form a framework to help us manage this debilitating fear.

1) What, How and Who?

As a self-confessed expert in fear, I know that the major component of any fear is it’s love of lurking in the unknown. If you can find a way to define what’s at the root cause of it, then you can start to release its grip.

What do you enjoy doing? What are your core skills?

If you find it difficult to define what you want to achieve, try looking at the how instead. If you were a specialist, the what would be much easier to define as there are likely to be common holy grails within your chosen field to which you could add your own smaller contribution: finding alternatives to fossil fuels, a cure for cancer etc.

When your interests are so varied, it can be tricky to pin down the what as your areas of interest are subject to change. Try instead to think about your core skills. It may be that you like to solve problems, teach or mentor, facilitate communication, build networks and make links, research and analyse information, design or be visually creative.

Knowing what your skill strengths are, gives you the vehicle for your activity. You know the skills you have to offer and can spot appropriate opportunities to use them.

Who do you want to make a difference for?

You may have a particularly strong sense of there being a particular type of person, group, community or demographic you want to work with or provide support to. Knowing who your clients or audience are, can make it easier to define what they need, and therefore what you could offer.

2) Create a Body of Work (Not a Singular Gigantic Achievement)

Given the multipotentialite propensity for shifting focus regularly, it would seem unwise to place all our ambition eggs in just the one success basket.

If you feel that sustained activity on a single project is for you, go for it! If however, you know this approach is never going to work for you, consider how a number of smaller achievements could be structured into a body of work.

It’s a bit like the over-arching theme in a Renaissance Business. You don’t have to focus solely on a single issue or interest, but rather find the linking theme between your varying interests to combine into a body of work. I’m talking here about the way in which even something as big as a skyscraper is not in fact a singular unit, but is actually constructed of thousands of smaller pieces fitted together.

3) What Does Success Look Like?

We need to have an understanding of what success looks like to us if we are to know what we need to do in order to achieve it, and to measure our progress against our goal. The tricky part is that the measurement of success is incredibly subjective.

For some of us, it means the self-satisfaction of knowing we’ve done something of value. For others, it may mean having an impact or making a difference to our family, friends, community, country or even influencing benefits on an international scale. Ask yourself:

  • How will I know I’ve achieved my goal?
  • How can I track my progress?
  • Who do I want to recognise my achievements?
  • Why are their opinions important to me and what happens to my feeling of success if they don’t see it the same way I do?

You’ll never please everyone, so it’s crucial not to base your personal measurement of success on the opinions of others. Keeping a sense of yourself and your core values, is good practice in grounding your ambition in areas over which you have some control.

Over to You!

I totally believe the dilemma of unfulfilled potential is one many of us may be wrangling with our whole lives. This post represents my thinking to date and as such, it’s not an issue I can claim to have all the answers for. I’d be really interested to hear your views:

Do you fear that you’ll never fulfill your true potential? Do you have tips, techniques or ideas that could help?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.

21 Comments

  1. janet says:

    another bingo, bev!! I totally relate. in fact, i always thought hearing things like “you have so much potential” as a *negative* thing because that meant that i haven’t fulfilled it yet. and that’s how i feel all the time… that i have such untapped potential but have yet to really do something with it in a big way! my advice is just don’t give up and keep doing the work.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Janet! Thanks for the feedback, it’s good to know it resonates with you too.

      Untapped potential can be a weight around the shoulders – a weight of expectation. I love that yor suggest to keep going and not give up, as I think that’s pretty much the only way we’ll ever find out! :)

  2. I really relate to this. I feel a constant pressure / reminder that I am running out of time. It’s what happens when you want to do everything.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Lily! I find the fear of unfulfilled potential is kind of it’s own self-fulfilling circle. The pressure that we’re running out of time can paralyze us from doing anything, and then because we’re not doing anything, the pressure continues to mount which paralyses more.

      The only ways I’ve found so far to tackle the fear, is to:

      1) Rationalise it and put yourself back in control(as with steps 1-3 above)

      2) Get into action. Pick anything from your list of everything you want to do, just to get something moving. Then figure it out as you go. :0

  3. Kat says:

    I know this problem/question very well, and I have been thinking about it a lot recently. And then the other day I read a totally random article (about how many kids who are diagnosed with ADHD might in fact just exhibit normal childhood narcissism), and there was this line that struck me:

    “These children have not fully learned the distinction between knowing about something and actually being able to do it.”

    It made me think about my many abilities: I know how to draw. But do I have what it takes (stamina, ideas….) to actually be an illustrator? I know how to sing, play instruments, write songs. But would I be able to record a whole album? I know how to write very well. But would I able to write a book? You get the idea.
    In fact, my creative output, though of high quality (thanks to my perfectionism), has always been very low in quantity!

    I think I just do not have the stamina, resources, and yes, I maybe don’t have enough creativity to actually BE an illustrator, musician, writer, whatever. I do all of it, these are beautiful pastimes, but just because I have the “potential” does not mean I would have enough drive and strength and patience to compete with those in the field who give it their everything.

    So I may have a skill, I KNOW how to do something, but I may still not be able to actually DO it daily, on a large scale, with the focus and determination that it takes to do it on a really high level, consistently. Which would mean that I actually don’t have to worry I am “wasting” my potential! Problem solved.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Kat! Many thanks for sharing this.

      I think you raise a very valuable point – we have to be careful not to compare ourselves (as multipotentialites) with specialists. We will probably never choose to be an illustrator, OR a musician, OR a writer.

      But we may choose to be an illustrator, AND a musician, AND a writer. We don’t have to choose, and so can create a unique linking of different subject areas and skills into our very own over-arching body of work.

      We no longer need to feel tied to making a whole album, because we’re not trying to be solely a musician. We can just compose and record the 3 songs that we feel driven to create. Before moving on to our next interest.

      I think it’s also important to emphasis desire in all this. When I talk about unfulfilled potential in this context, I’m referring to potential for which you have a desire, or yearning to develop. I would never encourage anyone to do something purely because they had potential, I believe you have to want to do it too. :)

  4. Christen says:

    This is really helpful. I’ve struggled for a long time with feeling like I haven’t fulfilled my potential.

    This advice is really helpful, especially the idea of creating a body of work. When I think about pooling all that I’ve done into a “body of work” it feels a lot more impressive than thinking about it as a bunch of individual projects that only sometimes get finished!

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Christen! Ah yes, the body of work concept is something that’s started to resonate more with me too, especially as I get older.

      It feels like an elegant solution: to combine a number of activities into one overarching body. And I find it helps relieve some of the pressure of looking for the ‘one big thing’ that I want to achieve. Enjoy assembling your ‘body of work’! :)

  5. Rick Levine says:

    Reading your article just made my heart a little heavier and I know that wasn’t your intention. I think you’ve framed the problem correctly but it’s so complicated. I’ve had many years where I’ve been blessed to have influence people’s hearts, minds and souls. And I’ve had people years after the fact tell me how my impact on their life has been so positive. But because I’ve never been able to turn my passion for people into my career, having been in a number of dead end jobs and starting a business that was successful in every other way except for money, my self confidence is completely shot which hinders my efforts to fulfill my potential. What’s a poor boy to do?

    • Laurie says:

      Rick, I totally relate. I’m the go-to person for everyone I know and they are all quite successful (perhaps thanks to my contributions?). I too have had nothing but trouble trying to put my passions to good use and put food on the table. I’m good at pretty much everything except making money. Not that money is everything, but um, it helps with a lot of things like, I dunno, staying alive?

  6. Mario says:

    With this past birthday I feel a real urgency to find myself. I’ve been struggling with this question my entire life, and had tried to psyche myself into believing that it didn’t matter. I have a decent set of clients and somewhat of a career so it makes it even more difficult to rock the boat. But this past birthday it hit me like a ton of bricks, I feel like I’m desperately running out of time. Hence why I’m here.

  7. Bev Webb says:

    Hi Rick. I so agree that it is extremely complicated issue (and my apologies for making your heart feel heavier). But what I do hope, is that by putting this issue out in the open, it helps all of us to find our own ways to tackle the problem.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter that you’ve never turned you passion into a career, or made money from your business. As I talk about in this blog post, all of us have different signifiers of success. I’m refering to our own personal visions of success, rather than those of the people around us, or of our society in general: big money, big houses, big cars, flashier holidays…

    If ‘money’ isn’t your main driver, but helping people is, then bingo! You’ve already had great success. If people are telling you that you made a positive difference to their lives, then that is truly an amazing achievement you should be proud of.

    It some respects, it doesn’t matter whether our potential is achieved through a job, your own business, on the side or in a volunteering capacity. The part that counts is whether you feel inside that you’re doing what you need to do. Hope this helps. :)

  8. Napster says:

    Hey Bev, I’m a tad older than Puttylike’s typical demographic, so I am a big yes on the running out of time thingy, especially due to only having just recently analyzed myself as a Multipod.
    Much waisted time spent; square peg – round hole. Bullied, fired , etc. – all for not ‘specializing’ or fitting the mold.
    A bit of a bumpy ride.

    Thanks so much. Your words are pure wisdom!

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Napster! I think the running out of time thing does catch up with us exponentially, the older we get. I’m convinced that whilst we may have additional challenges though, you’re never too old to discover and develop your mulipotentialite-ness.

      There are quite a few of us on here (and in the Puttytribe too), who are in our 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. If there’s anything you’d like us to blog about which has a particular impact on those of us who are 40yrs+ please let me know. Glad to know you enjoyed the blog post. :)

  9. Cayelin says:

    Hi Bev, thank you for addressing this issue…important and why I know I’m here… And yet it is tricky, “comparing my insides to other’s outsides” I can feel ashamed even here in this community, because I don’t have a blog as yet or a business. Having a business is in itself another field I never saw as an interest or field.

    Yet, I know I joined this community with the intent of having a business with my multipotentiality, to find my overarching theme, and quit the “day job”, but after a life time of jobs and doing my multitudinous interests after “work” or as sequential projects and “careers”, beginning the study of business and marketing, web design..et al has toppled me to overwhelm. Doing all the stuff and business on top of it seems too much…

    Maybe I’m not cut out for business, and it may be more possible to excel at something if that is not in the equation.

    I appreciate what you say at the end, that volunteer work might be the way an interest is explored or expressed, and that is okay. Still, I would like to settle about the earning part, with a job that allows the energy after hours to do those interests (for about 6 years I was a typesetter which was good for that) or find a way for entrepreneurship I can manage.

    When I joined the Puttytribe I was so surprised to see everyone had a website and blog, and I felt some shame, even to express that…and have just tried to have the attitude of beginners mind and enjoy the awesomeness of everyone. Enjoying the awesomeness of everyone is a whole other dimension I enjoy but distracts me from doing my own work..and then I want to stay away from the computer altogether and go volunteer with the animals at the shelter, go on nature hikes and learn about the restoration of native species here in Hawaii, develop my health and fitness plan…and look for intentional communities which might have an earning or work study component.

    Definitely a life and life’s work in progress. The times I have gotten something done I was proud of, there was a very solid structure with day jobs that provided social life, service, and funds and allowed the space to concentrate on the projects and deal with the fears and challenges that came up with them. Thanks.

    • Laurie says:

      Cayelin, stop beating yourself up because you don’t have a blog. Now that everyone has one it’s becoming time to do something new and different. Here’s your chance to be creative! Also, blogging and building up an audience is A LOT of work. And they pay is lousy (ie. zero).

      Keep up the activities you do outside in the real world – even when blogging is long dead the trees and animals will still be there, and they will still need your contribution.

      I’m envious you live in Hawaii! I’ve never even been there.

      You make a good point about comparing “insides to other’s outsides”. As you said, Life is a Work in Progress.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Cayelin!

      Thanks for your very thought provoking comment. I too would say there is absolutely no shame in not having a blog or a business. Honestly, I mean it! No shame at all. :)

      You nail it when you mention comparing “my insides to other’s outsides” – it’s so easy to do, and yet so unhelpful. It really is a case of comparing apples with oranges, and coming up with bananas!

      It’s so easy for us multipods to tip over into overwhelm too. The most important thing is to look after your well-being, and if learning about all the business/web stuff is adding to your feeling of overwhelm, you do right to take a breather from it.

      Business is not the only way to achieve your goals. It is one way, but there are plenty of other too. You don;t have to take a prescribed route, you can cut your own path if that is a better fit.

      Maybe look first at what is important to you, what you would like to be doing, and what you would love to achieve. You can then move on to look at a structure (job, self-employment, freelancing, volunteering, hobby, leisure activity etc), or combination of structures, which will enable you to achieve your goal. As you say, a life and a life’s work in progress. :)

  10. Niki says:

    I’m a multipotentiale from Indonesia.
    I just want to tell you of how much I’m really thankful & respect you for creating such helpful article like this! I really like your article, as well as your responses/comments, as they all really make sense & cut right to the point. Very sensible/makes perfect sense too!

    so thank you once again~ it really helps! and I’ll start applying some of the solutions from you!

    -Niki-

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Niki!

      Many thanks for your lovely feedback! It always makes me smile when I hear that the work we do here on Puttylike is resonating with the Putty community. :)

  11. Lakshmi says:

    Hi,

    This is a great article. Personally, I have narrowed my focus to two or three fields that I would genuinely like to make both a mark in and a useful contribution to.

    Also, as you mentioned, I, too, am looking at activities that I love to do in general such as research and writing and social areas that I am passionate about such as education and the environment.

    I totally agree with you that it is not enough to merely have potential but the desire, too.

    Regards,
    Lakshmi

  12. Douglas Eby says:

    How do you feel about your abilities and your identity, when you confront a deep gap between what you would like to accomplish, and what you believe you can? Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel describes this kind of pain: “It is natural that we will experience emotional pain when we recognize that the work that we would love to do…if not completely unavailable to us, just unavailable enough to make it doubtful that we can proceed and just unavailable enough to make our efforts feel like torture.” He goes on to note many challenges that smart people may have in common. – From article: Brainpower and The Smart Gap http://highability.org/6253/

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