It’s tempting to freeze up and remain on the ladder you’re on, buying into the notion that this is “as good as it gets.” If you believe there’s a unique path for your life, there can be no such thing. Being content with “as good as it gets” is the equivalent of admitting your progress has peaked and your potential is past.
If it were actually true, there would be no reason for anyone ever to do anything but hang on to the status quo. No reason to dream, no reason to hope, no reason to meet anyone new or take on any new adventure. No reason to try.
This unfortunately is the way many people deal with progress vs. potential tension; they try to control it by dumbing down their dreams and lowering their expectations. Left to fester, those people become workplace cynics who ferret out gaps in every strategy and cracks in everyone’s armor. If you need to know what’s wrong with the world or the workplace, ask them, they’ll know. It’s all they think about.
If you’re in a pit now or merely sensing you need to move in a more purposeful direction, the question you should be answering is, How do I move to a place where my daily progress pushes me toward my potential?
Honesty About the Present
Honesty about the present is the ability not to sugarcoat your current circumstances. Are you dissatisfied? Why specifically? What do you dislike most about your job? Why do you dislike it so much? If you’re tasting something bitter, say so. Don’t frost it and down it like a donut.
Now before your answers about the present can help you, you need outside input from trusted friends and colleagues. That’s because your perspective is unavoidably subjective and therefore blind to certain factors.
With a more honest perspective on our present circumstances, we are able to discern the lessons of our lives and begin applying them to daily steps. This is where hope for the future comes into play.
Hope for the Future
Hope for the future requires the clarity of perspective. Perhaps you’re prone to dreaming but not doing. Maybe you've been told to keep your dreams practical. You need to start perceiving your future differently. Our hopes are free to reach beyond the land of practicality to a place of heartfelt potential.
But how do we ensure continual progress toward our potential?
Transitioning to Progress Toward Potential Harmony
Transitioning out of your tension to a place where you’re making daily progress toward your potential is no overnight process. Most initial steps toward your potential are small, and it is only in their cumulative value that you see true progress. This can mean weeks and months of small, decisive steps without tangible confirmation that those steps are making a difference. You have to trust your gut and keep moving. Here are two areas to focus on to help with this process:
• Becoming a better you
• Doing more purposeful work
By making these two tasks the umbrella over your daily to-do list, you will begin to transition into daily progress that moves you toward steadily higher potential.
This is the harmonious combination Maslow called “self-actualization,” the process of becoming the best you in order to do your best work. He dubbed it the highest need of every human, and I find it hard to argue this claim. I don’t know a single person without some degree of ambition.
Don’t we all seem to have an innate longing for something more? Love, meaning, purpose; no matter how you describe it, we all feel pulled toward something bigger, better, or more meaningful. You might say we’re all innately mobile; we are made to move. But toward what?
This is the question we must answer every day in order to move from progress/potential tension to progress/potential harmony.
Paving a Path to Your Highest Potential
A few years ago, Men’s Journal came out with a practical guide to answering this question in your own unique way. The advice mirrors some valuable insight offered in Jim Collins’s classic Good to Great and ensures that your daily movement embodies the harmony of progress-toward-potential.
Here’s how to pave a path for making daily progress toward your highest potential. It may take some time, but once that path is paved, your job becomes merely to stay on it. Follow these three steps:
1. Figure out what in the world you can be your best at.
What task puts you most in your zone? What skill could you excel in if you took the time to develop it? Everyone has at least one to three skills with above average proficiency. What are yours?
When developed, they are your greatest career assets.
2. Figure out how to maximize your personal income while doing it.
How can you make your best skills profitable? Can you use them to increase your value in your current position? Or do you need to move on to another ladder that will exercise your skills on a more regular basis?
While I believe everyone holds the seed of an entrepreneurial spirit, I don’t believe everyone has to start a business, foundation, or movement to maximize the value of their best skills. With some focused research, the vast majority of us can find positions in reputable organizations that put our best skills in their zones. If you’re not currently working for such an organization, you can still progress toward your potential by doing due diligence each week to find a better organization. The goal with this second step is to figure out how to make a living by using your best skills.
It may take some time, but all steps in this direction are progress toward potential. Stay on track until you figure it out.
3. Devise a plan to do it.
This step might require what some would consider “impractical” decisions. For some it will mean taking a new job or at least transferring to a new department. If that’s your situation, plan ahead for it. Don’t make the mistake of quitting without having another opportunity ready to step into. That move will likely put you in a situation where you are pressed by time, and the longer you’re without a job, the less selective you can be.
Don’t put yourself in that kind of pinch. Plan carefully for any job or career transition, even if the transition takes six months or longer, so that meeting your basic needs doesn’t get in the way of meeting your higher needs.
By taking these steps to harmonize your career progress with efforts to reach your potential, you’ll be moving ever closer to your dream job. And you never know when one more step will take you to that perfect opportunity you’ve been dreaming of.