Are you living up to your full potential?
On days when I’m focused on using my multipotentialite pursuits to experience personal growth and professional success, my answer is an enthusiastic yes! But on days when I think about the people in my communities who are counting on me to represent them well at the highest level of my potential, my answer is a guilt-ridden no.
Who gets to decide what your “full” potential looks like, and how do you know you’ve reached it?
The burden of representation can complicate what it means for some of us to live up to our full potential.
As a woman with multiple intersecting identities in spaces where people like me are rare, I feel the burden of representation. Could I be doing more to represent my communities well? Yes. Would it mean so much for a person who shares my visible and invisible identities to see me at the highest level of the discipline or project I’m pursuing? Absolutely, yes! Will I burn out again if I try to live up to everyone else’s expectations of my full potential? Without question, yes. Even if I manage to achieve my goal, will I move the goalpost again? Ugh, very likely.
I decided to take this question to my multipotentialite friend Sue, who I know as an early childhood educator, writer, stand-up comedian, and jewelry maker who does theatrical plays and musicals, modeling, and improv in her spare time. You may know Sue from her viral TikTok, “What kindergarten students have said about my body.” Since releasing that, she’s become a public advocate for body positivity, or as she refers to it, a “plus-sized baddie.”
When I ask her about living up to our full potential as multipotentialites, she says “I don’t think anyone else gets to decide that other than you.” Sue taught me that living up to your potential is a feeling, not a goal—and definitely not an achievement, because it’s always changing as we multipotentialites change and grow.
If you’ve ever been haunted by questions about living up to your full potential, here are 3 steps to transforming that burden into a gift.
Step 1: Look for opportunities to express a new side of you
Sue gets great satisfaction out of showing different sides of herself because they defy the boring, one-dimensional representations of plus-sized women that she sees portrayed in movies, music videos, magazines, and TV.
By day, she happily takes on the responsibility of being a nurturing role model to young children and their parents as an early childhood educator.
“There was a kid that would be considered overweight by society’s standards. They were being bullied for their weight, and the mom had to message me to say that they were in the school yard saying, Well, Miss Sue is fat, and she’s beautiful, so I’m beautiful, too! And I was like, Yes, little Queen, yes!”
By night, she enjoys playing multiple characters in an improv troupe or delivering her blunt brand of stand-up comedy in nightclubs. Every time Sue goes to an audition, she is aware of the assumptions people make about what roles are ‘right’ for her. “As a plus-sized woman, I will get typecast. Now that I’m a grownup, I don’t take that on as my burden. But as a younger person, knowing that I was not going to be the Princess, I’d be like, Fine, I’ll be the best villain!” Nowadays she uses that information strategically: She might agree to a comedic role to get her foot in the door, but she uses every moment she has on stage to show her range. The burden of representation means that she has to jump through more unnecessary hoops to be cast in more diverse roles, but she uses every experience to open doors for more opportunities to write, direct, and produce theatre in the future.
What would it look like for you to choose multipotentialite projects according to their potential impact?
You might ask:
- Does this give me the chance to express a new or different aspect of my multifaceted self?
- Can I use this to explore an area (of myself, the world, etc.) that I’m curious about but haven’t had the opportunity until now?
- Might saying yes to this project lead to future opportunities that are even better suited to my multipotentialite dreams?
Step 2: Tap into how you feel when you’re fully engaged in that activity
As an early childhood educator, Sue has felt “those moments of clarity […] Oh, I’m in the exact right place at the exact right time. This is the best version of me.” She tells me that teaching kindergarten saved her life a little bit, because the curriculum requires her to teach students how to regulate their emotions, verbalize their needs, and use their words to treat each other with kindness.
Before she could teach this to her students, she had to teach it to herself. “It was probably a major weakness of mine at one point. So being in a job where I have to constantly be modeling how to express your emotional needs has definitely benefited me in my relationships with my partner, in my relationships with my friends, and I wouldn’t be the person that I am if I wasn’t able to express those things for sure.”
So, reaching into your full potential can involve challenging yourself to go beyond what’s comfortable. As she began her career in teaching, Sue describes thinking to herself, I’m trying my absolute best, and this is as much as I can give. I’ve gone to the edge of the cliff, and that’s as far as I go! Nowadays, it’s more like, This is what joy is like. This is my fullest potential. When the risk of disaster seems worth the potentially delightful surprise of things turning out much better than expected, Sue challenges herself to do really scary things. Her internal monologue in those moments is, Okay, I’m horrified, but I’m still going to do it.
She tells me about how she responded when one of her students shouted “Wow! Are you turning into my dad?” when he noticed the hair on her arms. While I laugh and cringe simultaneously, Sue tells me that ten years ago, that kind of comment would have made her cry. “I remember there were times in college when I was at my practicum, where kids would comment about my weight or my makeup or something that should be negative, and I’d go home and cry, or even cry on my lunch break. Now, it doesn’t even phase me. I’ve literally heard it all.”
So, when her student recently asked if she was turning into his dad, she didn’t cry. In fact, her first thought was “It was just so innocent, so cute.” She said “No, I’m not turning into a dad. But I have long hair on my arms, like my grandma did. So when I look down at my arms, I think of my grandma.”
Being an early childhood educator gives Sue the opportunity to practice the skills she needs to feel like her best self, and to help the next generation grow into their best selves by using their words to be kinder and more compassionate to themselves and to each other. For Sue, living up to her full potential involves creating opportunities to grow into her best self, learning and modeling critical life skills, and taking calculated risks that help her feel fully alive.
Would you choose different ways to maximize your multi-passionate potential if you focused on how being fully engaged in them makes you feel?
- Do I experience moments of flow, where time goes by without me noticing it?
- Does this make me feel challenged in a way that energizes me?
- Do I feel like I’m getting more in touch with my best self?
Step 3: Create a positive feedback loop
When Sue joined TikTok, she never expected to be an influencer. She joined during one of the early COVID-induced lockdowns in her province, tuning in to see “people also stuck at home, just being themselves.” TikTok was the first time she saw herself represented in the people who posted videos. She posted her first video in response to a trend, but put her own twist on it, dancing under quotes of what kids have said to her over the years. A lot of them had to do with her body, so she thought: “If I’m dancing in these videos, then I’m kind of promoting body positivity and the freedom to move at any size.” Her first video got 100,000 views within 48 hours, and people in the comments urged her to do more videos. Her fourth video went viral with 4.5 million views, and the rest is history.
The dancing videos were popular, but she started to feel the urge to give back to the community that had comforted her during lockdowns. She transitioned into posting videos that help folks “feel good about their bodies,” including candid videos about what it’s like to live with polycystic ovarian syndrome. “I’ve gotten private messages from people saying, I’ve never met a woman that shaves her face other than myself! and I’m like, Yes, you have. They’ve just never talked to you about it.”
Her latest project is a video series based on her viewers’ answers to the question: “What are things that people have told you you absolutely can’t do because you’re plus size, or [you] think that you can’t do because you’re plus size?” So far, folks have given her suggestions like taking lessons in martial arts, ballet, or figure skating lessons; going on a roller-coaster or to a skate park; doing parkour; or simply “going to a public pool in a bikini.” Her plan is to “spend a month trying to get really good at the things that people have told me my whole life I would never be good at” and film the results.
What I’ve learned from Sue is that as multipotentialites, our potential is unlimited. You get to choose some of the ingredients that make up a life that makes you proud. We can’t really be people who others admire if we don’t allow ourselves to nurture a self that we love best. When we start there, the possibilities for others to find their best selves become unlimited, too.
To create a positive feedback loop of your own, ask yourself:
- When I’m living into my full potential, do I allow myself to run on empty?
- What do I need to feed into my life to keep my productivity healthy and sustainable for me?
- When my cup is full, what do I do with my overflow?
- How can I create space for others to live into their full potential?
Is living up to your full potential possible for a multipotentialite? Have you ever felt the burden of representation? How did you respond?
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