After I did yesterday’s post, the topic of potential started knocking around a lot in my brain for the rest of the day.  You see, I find potential to be one of the more interesting concepts to think about because it has a lot of nuances to it, both good and bad.  I think this is why I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with potential.

The positive side of potential is fairly obvious: it’s about having the chance to do much, be much and achieve much.  It’s about that bright horizon of promise where so many good things await and you just want to sprint towards it with fervor.  WOO!  GET SOME!

On the other side of the ledger, I think about the quote from former NFL coach Brian Billick when he said, “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”  The darker side of potential is that it means someone has gifts, talents and abilities… but without the realization of those innate qualities.  Hmm… that’s never good.  This is when all the promise and hope bumps up against the passage of time and people begin to ask, “Umm… soooo… do you plan on actually doing anything with all of your gifts?  Or are ya just gonna sit on them?”  Oof.  Not good.

Potential: cool and refreshing

It made me think about what analogy works best for potential. My initial thought was a glass of water.  There sits a nice, cold, refreshing glass of water representing all of your potential.  If it just sits there and is ignored, it’s just going to become room temperature and possibly taste a little funky after a while.  Instead, you want to get into and drink deeply of it to gain all of its great benefits.

But what happens when you start to get near the bottom of the glass?  When there is just sips left?  Sure, you have nearly maximized everything of that crisp, satisfying potential… umm… but then what?  It’s gone?  Empty?  Nothing left?  What do you look forward to now?  Is there some kind of problem with being incredibly efficient at bringing out the best of the glass of potential you have because one it’s all done… that’s it?

It was at this point I realized the problem was more with the structure of the analogy.  Sure, there is something keenly appealing about the idea of the cold glass of water and making use of it instead of letting it become lukewarm and bleah… but it really hit me that our potential is never going to be a finite container.  How could it be?

We can always develop and get a little better than before – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  There may be some outer boundaries at some point.  For instance, the window of opportunity for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing running back for the Dallas Cowboys is quickly closing… and shut your filthy mouths, you naysayers who say it was never open!  But you see what I mean – I probably will not develop 4.2 speed and the ability to hit an inside draw for a game winning touchdown in Dallas.  That’s OK.

But a lot of my other physical development?  I don’t see any outer limits right now.  It may all take a while, but it’s there because… why the hell not?  You and I are mostly limited by our own set boundaries in the end.

Or intellectual development – does anyone seriously believe they have capped out there?  Who couldn’t learn more and open up their mind to new and exciting possibilities until they draw their very last breath?  I will tell you who – those who decided it couldn’t be done and stunted their own growth in that area.  Them and them alone.

I think that was the most eye-opening part of doing the Tough Mudder a few weeks back.  In the middle of the race, several hours in and feeling tired and beaten all to hell, I realized one important thing – as banged up as I felt, I knew I would finish.  I simply knew it as sure as I was drawing breath (which was probably more like wheezing at that moment, but still a form of oxygen intake regardless).  If I could push through that, what else could I do?

Truthfully, all of my physical training since that time has been markedly improved because the 6 grueling hours of that race showed me where I had limited myself in the past.  It took that grind to break down my self-created walls and open up some squeaky-clean and shiny-new potential.

Flex those boundaries a bit today, my friends.  They will stretch more than you think… especially because you probably created 90% of them anyway.