I don’t know you, but there is one thing about you that I am 99.99% certain of, and that is that you have mind-bogglingly huge potential, both in what you can achieve in your career (and life) and the difference you can make in the world. Why do I think that? Because we all do.
And if you’re anything like most of us, you’re nowhere near living fully up to that potential. Picture yourself at the center of a sphere. The outer edges of that sphere represent what you see as realistically within reach. It’s what you can achieve based on your current efforts and perspective. But those outer edges don’t represent your actual potential. They simply represent the potential you’re currently creating. And since you are creating that potential, that means you can also expand it. Here are four ways to do that.
Make unreasonable requests. Some time ago I was talking with a friend of mine, author and management consultant Lisa Haneberg, who mentioned that she was heading off to pick up a high-profile business guru from the airport. “Wow,” I said, “How did you swing that?” She replied, “It was one of my unreasonable requests.”
Each week she makes it a point to make several requests to which she has no reasonable expectation of getting an affirmative response. In this case, she discovered that this author and entrepreneur was coming to town for a talk and she reached out and asked if he needed a ride from the airport. He said sure.
Her philosophy is that a certain percentage of those requests, maybe one in ten, will get a yes. So if she makes five unreasonable requests each week, every two weeks something new will open up. And who knows what possibilities any of those might create?
There’s no risk involved. By definition, she expects to hear a no to her request, so she doesn’t feel rejected when she hears it. It’s just a confirmation of what she already suspected. But every once in a while, she gets an unexpected yes. There’s nothing but upside.
Have a burning vision. Every time I talk to Brian Johnson, founder of the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living, I’m struck by how much of both his thinking and his action is inspired by his burning vision for what he wants to create and the positive change he wants to see. More than that, I’m struck by how inspiring it is to me. I find myself wanting to support what he’s doing.
Having that burning vision does a number of things. It gives him a focal point around which to organize his efforts, and it helps him recognize opportunities that support that burning vision. It also inspires other people to want to help him, and helps them recognize opportunities to do so.
Brian is an entrepreneur, but you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to have a burning vision for what you want to create. You simply need clarity. What do you want to achieve? What energizes and inspires you? What goals are you trying to reach? The better you understand that, the better you can use that insight to focus your efforts, get traction, and recognize opportunities.
Second guess your nay-saying. There’s a saying, “don’t believe everything you think.” When it comes to meeting your full potential, that saying is incredibly relevant. Why? Because most people have a built-in nay-sayer. Its knee-jerk response is to say, “No, that’s not possible. No, I can’t do that. No, that’s not realistic.”
The trouble is, often that nay-sayer is just flat-out wrong. Sometimes that error is obvious, like when you don’t think something is possible but you try it anyway, only to find that it was easier than you thought. Other times the nay-sayer actually does seem to be right, but you realize that, with a little effort, creativity, patience, persistence, etc., it really is possible.
Sometimes, of course, your nay-sayer truly is accurate. But if you just listen to it automatically without questioning its assessment, you’ll cheat yourself of opportunities. Instead of buying into it immediately, second-guess your nay-sayer. Ask, “Is that really true?” Test it out. Look for ways that it might be false. Explore and stay open.
Find your boundaries—and ignore them. Each of us has an innate sense of what is and isn’t possible for us. We have a perception of who we are, and what we can achieve. Whether we realize it or not, we’re operating within the boundaries of what is realistic for us. But typically those boundaries are nothing more than self-generated illusions. We decide that those boundaries are the outer limits, and so we don’t move past them.
Each of us has different boundaries. What feels possible for one person might feel completely out of reach for another. What feels scary for one person might feel as natural as breathing for another. If you want to expand your potential, first figure out what your boundaries are.
A great place to start is to look at a dream, something you would love to do, but that feels somehow out of reach. Then imagine really going for it. Where do you feel resistance? Why does it feel impossible, or at least improbable? What is it about you that wouldn’t let you turn that dream into reality?
Once you get a better picture of those boundaries, ignore them. Too many people have created the career and the life they want to create in the face of enormous obstacles for it to really be impossible. Ask yourself, “How do I expand this boundary? How do I develop the belief that I can do this, or achieve that? What skill would help me? Who could support my efforts? What small steps would help me build the foundation? How can I move past this?”
Resist the effort to feel like you need to take one huge and mighty leap into your full potential. You won’t. Instead, explore where those self-imposed boundaries are and find ways to keep nudging them outwards.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.