The Potential of Potential

Our Potential by Hugh MacLeod
Our Potential by Hugh MacLeod

I wanted to get out a quick thought this AM that was inspired by the cartoon above from the always excellent Hugh McLeod at gapingvoid.com (I own one of his prints and it hangs proudly in my home office as a little reminder to myself to fight the status quo).  If you haven’t checked out his site, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Potential is a funny thing… we all want it for ourselves, as we should.  We want to know that there is a limitless amount of possibility for ourselves and where we choose to take our lives.  However, potential has an interesting flip side to it when it comes to our own personal potential… the longer we have it without it being fulfilled, the worse it really is.  Then it becomes a reminder of what we could do, but haven’t.  Ugh.

It’s as if potential was an empty vessel of some kind and the larger it is, the more chance we have to fill it… but if it stays empty or barely filled, it just get dusty and disappointing.  It’s there to be filled.  It’s meant to be filled… or at the very least, the attempt to fulfill on its promise must always be engaged.

Before anyone thinks I am taking a good thing and looking only at its ugly side, I’m actually not being a pessimist here.  Instead, I seek to jab all of us in the side with a reminder that potential is a great thing, but a massive amount of unfulfilled potential due to lack of interest, desire or just plain hard work will always pale in comparison to someone who may have less, but dagnabbit, gets after it with fervor. And each of us never truly knows how big that vessel of potential is, do we?  Isn’t it better to put your head down, kick ass and see where the limits may be?  I’ve long had the suspicion that it’s not finite, but grows as we do…

There is also another very positive side to the concept of potential and this is less about your own personal abilities and gifts and more about what life can offer you.  In that sense, I know there is no upper limit to what can be.  The opportunities to try things, do things, see things and experience things is pretty much limitless.

So therein lies the battle cry for each of us (and definitely for me… remember people, I write this just as much to kick my own behind into action as yours): If we can each keep pushing the bounds of our own personal potential and life will always offer us limitless potential, then bringing those two things together is about as perfect a marriage as you can get.

In the words of two of the greatest poets of our time… Salt-n-Pepa, obviously… push it.  Push it real good.

Every Step, A Building Block

CameraZOOM-20120227124829338

My trusty new kicks.  May they make me fly like the mythical shoes of Hermes.

As I’ve written about before, I made the totally awesome (or epically stupid) decision to do a Tough Mudder in Vermont in May.  Now, in preparing for that little life adventure, there was one thing I assiduously avoided as much as humanly possible… long distance running.  “Dearest Kevin… why pray tell would you avoid running when preparing for a race that involves around 10 miles worth of that very activity???”

Because… I haaaaaate it.  Good Lord, do I hate me some running.  Not sprinting or flying around on a soccer field or a basketball court.  That’s all good.  Oh no, I’m talking about just running over long distances and nothing else.  Where each landing footfall causes me to wonder why on Earth I am putting myself through such drudgery.

Ya feel me, dawg?

But my competitive nature won’t quite allow me to just blow this off completely.  I signed up for this race and damn it, I am gonna punch that thing in its smug face… umm… you know, if an obstacle course can have a face upon which to even have a look.

So the beauties you see above represent a new step for me – my newest weapons in the battle for running dominance.  Before you assume “running dominance” is an utterly insane assertion on my part to go from running-hater to super-elite-marathoner… rest assured, it is not.  Rather, I am running to dominate myself a bit and break through the mental barrier I have to it.

That began today with 2 mile of running during lunch.  Like many things in life, there were positives and negatives.  The positive?  My endurance was actually pretty good.  The negative?  The muscles in the bottom of my feet and lower legs felt like they were hit with napalm.  The BURN!  My God… the BURN!  I chalk this up to having done sprints a day or two ago in my minimalist shoes.  I think, absent that, I would have done a lot better today.  Also on the positive side of the ledger was that the shoes were actually very comfortable (napalm burning aside).

And the true positive of it at all?  Today was a fair number of steps (both physical and mental) towards getting better at something that has always challenged me.  Each step, no matter how painful, was a necessary piece towards preparing for my May race… and also part of my own process to fight through a difficulty I would rather avoid all together.

It sounds horribly clichéd, but this is where character is built.  If I’m not ready to push myself through 2 miles now, how will I ever be ready to do it for 10 with slopes, obstacles, water, mud and freaking electrical wires?  Each step builds on the one just before it and the best path is just to put your head down, don’t think about each time your foot strikes the ground and before long… progress… and not long after that… the finish.

But no finish for me just yet.  68 days and 12 hours to go… and many, many steps.

Giving Up and Doing Good

Photo on 2-22-12 at 7.55 PMI thought I would try something extra nutty this evening and keep my blog post fairly short and to the point.  I know, I’m sort of doubting that will happen too as I type this, but by God… let’s give this crazy notion a whirl.

Today is Ash Wednesday, hence the snappy picture of our blog hero to the right, looking dapper as ever in pointing out the incredibly obvious ashes mark on my dome.  Because you wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise, right?

I’m a fairly private person when it comes to my own faith, hence I ‘m not going to spend a lot of time going into the details of that… however, I think there is something about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent generally that is a positive in our hectic modern world.  Basically, it’s meant to be a time to stop, reflect and realize there’s much in life that’s a lot bigger than you and your individual problems.  Separate that from the particular religious aspects of the season and it soon becomes a valuable lesson for anyone, regardless of belief, or lack thereof.  It’s a bit of my mission for the next several weeks to make reflection a better habit than I have.

In addition, I am also looking to do something this year for Lent in addition to the “giving up” piece that so many people tend to associate with the season (although I am doing a bit of that too).  Inspired by a Facebook post I saw from author Robyn O’Brien, I remembered what my Mom always would say about Lent when I tried to think of what to give up.  “Kevin, you don’t have to give something up… you can just do something instead.”  As usual, Mom had the wisdom I am usually only able to feign.

So this year, my goal is to try and make someone’s day, every day by paying a very sincere compliment… and not repeat anyone for the entire period of Lent.  Sounds doable, right?  I think one way I will do this is just to post a Facebook status update each day on one of my friends (especially on days where I cannot think of a specific compliment I gave… like today).

Will this change the world?  No, probably not… but honestly, I think we live in a world of sorely in need of people saying nice things about each other and really meaning them.  It’s simple to do, costs absolutely nothing and you never know who might need that lift, maybe even more than you know.

Off to start my do-gooding… and these 40 days may turn into something a little bit more than just a short window goal.  Wouldn’t that be something?

A Funny Little Thing Called Regret

Sometimes in life, you find something that inspires you and causes you to pursue it with wild abandon as a driving direction in your life.  Not just a passing whim that somehow catches your attention, but something that alights like fire in your heart.  Now THOSE are moments I think everyone seeks out and they are difficult to find.  Obviously.

For quite some time, I had something like that.  When I was in high school (maybe around my junior year), I began participating on the mock trial team and I completely caught the bug of wanting to be a lawyer.  My focus on this became almost single-minded, especially when I got to college.  I worked my tail off for 4 years because higher grades meant opportunities for better law schools.  Heck, I skipped a single class in college… and… umm… that was to study for a different class.  Not exactly “Rebel Without A Cause” kind of defiance in any way, shape or form.

I then got to law school and sought to apply myself with a great deal of rigor there as well.  Now, let me be clear on something… law school is hard.  I don’t care which school it is, if you went through or are going through that special kind of Hell, I tip my hat to you.  It’s an experience that’s difficult to describe to those who have not gone through it.  Suffice it to say, no one really enjoys law school… except for a few people.  And they scared me.

I got out of law school… got myself a nice shiny associate job with a law firm… and quickly realized, the life of a lawyer really wasn’t for me.  At all.

That’s quite an epiphany to experience at age 25 when you’ve spent the last 9 or so years (more than 1/3 of my life at that point) going full-bore at becoming an attorney.  I can’t lie – it rattled me.  How could it not?  I mean… what in the world would I do now?

But the funny thing about all of it… at the moment of clarity I had those close to 15 years ago (holy crap… 15 years?!?!?!?) through all the years that followed thereafter… I never regretted my decision to pursue being an attorney.  Really.

Is it because I’ve mastered some secret Zen technique that allows me to redirect all of life’s disappointments in a form of mental aikido?  Not really.  In fact, I  wouldn’t even say I am all that special in this regard.

It just came down to 2 important facts I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts:

1) Everything that has happened before in my life has brought me to where I am today and caused me to be who I am today.  And I like who I am… so why would I regret that?

2) I have absolutely zero ability to change or affect any event that has happened in the past… so what good is beating myself up over it endlessly?  Should I learn from it?  Hell yes, but beyond the learning and seeking to do better going forward, there is nothing to be gained in dwelling on missed opportunities or decisions that went an unexpectedly negative way.

I think the other major gripe I have with regret is often works from an assumption that whatever was “missed” before can never be obtained again.  I don’t buy that for a second.  Yes, if you always had a crush on Mary-Jo Hooper, never asked her out and she is now happily married with 3 kids, that ship has sailed my delinquent Romeo.

But many other things?  They aren’t necessarily closed off… it just depends on how bad you want it.  People go back to school and change careers and start new businesses.  New habits are formed and old ones broken.  The fact you are now 40 as opposed to 20 should not mean all is lost IF (and this is a critically big if) whatever you missed before has remained hugely important to you since.

Just don’t be the guy or gal who is always looking back to the days gone by and chances that appear to be nothing but cloudy memories.  Be proud of who you are now and what you have… and if you aren’t?  What’s really stopping you from making yourself anew?

The Intelligence of Hard Work

Certain things in life will always stick out in your mind, irrespective of when they happened.  I’ve never been able to figure out why I remember certain things or events with the utmost clarity and yet can’t remember at all something from the day before.  Whatever flips that switch, I have no idea, but it would be cool to find out more about it.  In that vein, I always remember a conversation I had with a few guys in college, I think around my junior year.

I had the reputation for being the studious one and probably with good reason.  I never skipped a class in my entire college career… except for one time… and that was so I could do work for a different class.  It was just how I operated since I was very single-minded in my focus to get the best possible grades to help me get into the best possible law school.  Anyway, the topic of grades, studying and intelligence came up and two of these guys said to me, “You know, Kuz… it’s not that you’re really any smarter than either of us.  It’s just that you study more.  I’m sure if we studied that much we would do just as well.”

Even today, some 19 years later, that STILL makes me laugh and shake my head in disbelief, for the simple reason that it’s just a cop-out for being mediocre.

Sound harsh?  Perhaps… but it’s something I continue to see or hear about today in a variety of contexts.

“Well, I would look as good as Sally if I spent that much time in the gym and was that strict about my eating…”

“Sure, Larry is moving up in the company… but hell, I could do that if I was a workaholic like him…”

Now, if you are comfortable with who you are, please don’t let me try and convince you to be otherwise.  It’s really not my place and I’m a firm believer that each of us has the freedom to pursue whatever path in life brings us the greatest happiness and inner joy, provided that walking such path doesn’t harm others around you.

2010-08-04 20.25.02

But I can’t believe the extent to which people will shake off the commitment, drive and passion of others as being seemingly nothing and if they worked as hard as that person, they would be in the same place.  Here’s the problem with that thinking: If you don’t put in that work, you’re just not the same.  You’re not… and no amount of patting yourself on the back with notions of “If I only did X…” will change that… unless you starting doing whatever X may be.  This is a line of argument that places some vague, hazy notion of “potential” far above working to get someplace.  Potential… in the end… is more of a nice notion and all it means, in the end, is something great that has not been fulfilled as of yet.

Potential is a great thing to have… but only for a very, very small window.  Hanging onto potential too long just becomes a disappointing case of “What could have been…”

None of us has to be like gym rat and diet freak like Sally or work-’round-the-clock like Larry.  We each get our choices and if you choose a different path, more power to you.  I am in full support of that with all my heart.

But the point at which we seek to tear down those who have chosen their own path with notions that we could each reach that too it IF ONLY… then we not only discredit their passion (a horrible act in my book), but we also look to soothe ourselves with a balm of settling for mediocre and explaining it away as if it were acceptable because we could easily get to that place too.  That’s justifying something average.

I don’t come at any of this from a place of cockiness or arrogance – just from knowing that nothing good is achieved or worthwhile without some hard work to get there.  I am far from perfect and would never, ever describe myself as the purest paragon never-ending, ceaseless hard work… but I do work pretty hard for what I believe in.

Remember… the crime is not in picking your own path, but in making that of another who pursues theirs with drive seem like something anyone could do.  I’ve caught myself in this trap a few times before, but with some awareness now, I will battle hard never to do it again.

“We could get your grades, Kuz, if we just studied as much as you do…”  But they didn’t.  And hard work is an intelligence all its own.