Are you squandering your potential?


When someone tells you how much potential you have, remember Fernando Pessoa's words: 

Success consists in being successful, not in having the potential for success. Any wide piece of ground is the potential site of a palace but there's no palace until it's built.  
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Are you wasting your potential? Are you told how much potential you have and yet nothing happens with that potential? How much of your time is spent on dreaming, talking about what you want to do, versus executing? I've been there, believe me. Will your life be like the famous Norman Vincent Pearle quote, "the trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." Ouch.

Exploiting your potential takes many, many hours of hard work, with consistency, and courage. Of having the audacity to go against all odds and to keep at it even in the midst of self doubt, haters, and tremendous fear.

To all creation there is a process -- beginning, middle, end -- and repeat. The stages of gestation and germination are a crucial. Renowned fashion designer Isabel Toledo calls the gestation stage, free ranging the mind. It's a time when you cultivate self respect and self knowledge, you wander and take everything in, feeding all the parts of you, experiencing the world fully. I liken that stage to that of a caterpillar's early life when it eats everything in sight. Then comes germination and like a seed that sprouts, the caterpillar crawls to a branch where it builds a cocoon preparing for the ultimate transformation of its potentiality: to become a butterfly that flies. 

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Potential must be nourished daily and we do that by playing, training, studying, gaining the necessary skills, and ultimately, and always in all ways, by putting in the long hours. Potential is maximized with hard work, one small step at a time. There is no other way.


Of all the successful people I interviewed over the years--Spike Lee, Alicia Keys, Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, Benicio Del Toro, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Blakely, Betsey Johnson, Edie Falco, Narciso Rodriguez, and so many, many more--all had one thing in common: they manifested their potential by putting in long hours and I think, by being self propelled, and fearless in their belief of their potential and contributions to their field. They believed in their ideas when no one did. They prepared. They acted on these ideas. Each believed in their potential just enough to put in the massive amount of work it takes to succeed in their craft.

William Omar Landon, aka Don Omar, singer, composer, and actor, summed up potential best: there are more talented musicians playing on the subways of New York City than anywhere in the world. Talent has nothing to do with success. How much work you are willing to put in marks the difference between singing on the A train or Madison Square Garden."

Landron's words are very much in tune with Malcolm Gladwell's theory in "The Outliers"--it takes 10,000 hours of hard work before mastery arrives.

How strange or tragic that Pessoa, the author of the insightful quote, "Success consists in being successful, not in having the potential for success," a Portuguese master of words and one of the finest poets of the 20th century, received notoriety, i.e, success in the way we've come to know success, posthumously. After his death in 1935, his sister discovered a trunk filled with over twenty-thousand poems, journals, musings, essays and more. Those diaries with insightful observations on the despair of the early 20th century were published posthumously and make up the literary gem with the most exquisite title, "The Book of Disquiet." 

The founder of the modernist literary journal Orpheu, Pessoa is now considered a literary giant but  during his life, he was a minor figure. Was Pessoa's potential wasted? Did his mastery come quietly and shelved away for only him to experience? Did Pessoa  know he was capable of building a palace and chose to not build it rather leave fragments of it scattered in his treasure chest? 

Are you sitting on a treasure trove of your potential. Is that novel, collection of poetry, self-help tome, screen play ever going to be written? Is that painting ever going to get started? Or the restaurant you dream about opened? 

We are all creatures with immense potential to create beautiful and useful things that add beauty and magic to this world. The question is, do you have to courage and conviction to exploit your creative potential?

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