When I was in high school, one of my teachers told me that potential means nothing. It’s what you do with all of that potential that counts. That I had all the potential in the world and it would count for nothing unless I got up and acted on it. Not a half an hour later, another teacher told me that potential is something I should embrace if I believe I have it, because some kids just don’t.
For the sake of sparing names, I won’t mention any. But I want to talk about these two teachers today. I was talking about a month ago with a friend about a mutual friend that we both share, and all of the potential that he has. I came right out and said it was going to be wasted unless they did something with it, which I believe is true, because that’s something I was taught.
Potential is supposedly everything. It is in every handshake, every note played, every brush stroke laid to paper and yet, in the same breath that we are told about all of this capacity within us to do incredible things, we’re also told that some people just suck. That some of us just don’t have what it takes.
That’s a pretty dark message, if you ask me. Don’t you agree? To tell someone that they aren’t capable of doing what they dream of?
It actually makes me really, really angry. Because what if… deep down, someone has a dream. A goal. Any kind of small ambition? Then someone, somewhere tells them that they aren’t good for it. Like they’re trying to cash in an empty check.
We get so good in this life at reducing ourselves to numerical values. I think that’s in part because numbers are the easiest way to evaluate things, but why is it that we put so much weight in these numbers? We created them. We control them. There is nothing they can do about it, because they are figures that exist inside of our own minds.
Just like our potential.
I think that both of my teachers got it wrong. Because, when I was told that potential means nothing I had just failed a pretty big assessment of my knowledge. I was told that my actions meant everything, and that I could wish all I wanted that I was good at something before I even knew I had the ability to be good at it.
I was a 67% for a day. That sucked. It enveloped my whole life, maybe it’s part of the reason that I cling to the number 67 the way that I do now. Maybe not, maybe I’m crazy.
I’ll tell you one thing though…
I have all the potential in the world, and so do you.
Our teachers did get something right. It isn’t the potential to do something that matters. You can live your whole life thinking about how to approach a situation, or thinking about how good you are at music or sports or whatever, but it means jack nothing if you just sit on your thumb and wonder “what if?”
I might be a sixty-seven, but I promise that you are not. You are 100. 110. 140 and upwards. You aren’t defined by numbers. You aren’t defined by your dreams.
The reason I wrote all this today is because I know a handful of people that want to be someone special more than anything in this world. They want to run their own business, they want to write books, they want to make brilliant music and they want to be the next sports star. They have these dreams, and they’re damn good at what they do. Yet, they were told that they lack potential by one group, meaning that no matter how much they work, they will still fail. Then the other side told them that for all their potential, it won’t come true without action.
I think both pieces need to be present. I think that in order to be that great mind, that person you want to be, you have to have that little spark living inside of you. You have to overcome your fears of rejection and your worries about being ignored.
Get out there. You aren’t a number, I’ve said that a hundred times before. You are brilliantly formed and what’s inside of you is precious, but please don’t let that be where it ends. If you have a dream for yourself, pursue it. Make it a reality. Paint and draw and dance and sing and write and run and lift and smile.
Smile like it’s the last chance that you get to, because it is.
Tomorrow morning you will wake up a brand new person with a handful of new memories under your belt. You will rummage through the ones you love and the ones that make you hurt. You are meant to face your dragons. You were born to fight.
If you’ve got that inside of you, nothing will stop you. No teacher, no test. No critic or editor can stand between where you are and who you want to be. So start walking.
Every adventure starts with a single step.
Don’t worry, I’ll be there too. I believe in you. We all have so much wonder to bring to this world. Start sharing yours.
Pick up your sword and start swinging.