Are We Ever Living Up To Our Potential?

by Yafa Crane Luria


Are we ever living our potential, or is this just a distraction from our real purpose?

When I was in elementary school I was told that I wasn’t living up to my potential. The teachers had a conference about it with my parents and me. They asked me, “Why aren’t you living up to your potential?” “What aren’t you doing better work? You have so much potential.”

Potential is a 4-letter word!

I didn’t even know what “potential” was. Something I’m supposed to have but I don’t? Something I definitely have but I’m hiding it? I thought my teachers were crazy. “Whatever ‘potential’ is,” I thought, “I don’t have it and I wish you’d leave me alone because I keep getting into trouble and I don’t know why.”

Elementary school wasn’t that fun.

Parents call me weekly to tell me that they’re FURIOUS that their child is wasting their potential. What I hear them saying is that they adore their children and wish that their sons and daughters would be motivated to concentrate on schoolwork and, also, that they would care enough to be nice kids.

Should we be paying attention to potential or does this harm our kids?

I was sitting around the other day and the thought came to me: “Do we ever live up to our potential? And if so, when does it happen?” It seems to me that our potential is determined by our intelligence but that it neglects to take into account the whole person. Or at least it’s determined by a talent we have. Maybe that talent is intellectual, maybe musical, maybe we’re sporty, maybe we’re natural leaders or comics or teachers.

But do we have to do THAT in order to live up to our potential?

What if our choices are determined by something else?

I think they are. I think we make choices about our future, even our immediate futures, based on an emotional tug. For some that emotional tug is pleasing our parents, for some it’s pleasing our friends, for others it’s pleasing ourselves. Still others have a sense of duty to God, country, or some other group. As our culture moves more away from “Respect Your Elders” and more towards “Question Authority,” we see more kids creating their own definition of potential.

Should we be deciding who is and who isn’t living up to their potential when that person is still a child?

Then, too, who said potential was something to be measured in childhood? I was pretty unhappy (and shocked) being told I wasn’t living up to my potential. After all, I was only 10. Maybe we shouldn’t have that conversation until our kids our 30. Then we can judge whether it’s really a necessary conversation to have at all.

Before I was 30 here’s what I was told about my potential (based on my intelligence and analytical skills, mostly) and here’s why I refused each of those paths. Take note:

  1. Cantor at a synagogue — I was told this when I was 15, and at 15 training to be a Cantor is very isolating.
  2. College professor — (I got this one a lot) too isolating. you have to focus on publishing more than on teaching.
  3. Lawyer — too much arguing.
  4. Psychologist — my parents were psychologists and it seemed like they were pretty unhappy. (I later learned that their jobs were the best part of their lives)
  5. Museum Curator of Education — I actually was headed in that direction but took a different turn.
  6. Run a rare-books business — I started to train for this as well but took a different turn.
My point is that we all have the potential to do SO much.
There aren’t just 10 careers out there; there are thousands. Why pigeonhole and even, limit, our kids by declaring so early that they’re not living up to their potential. Perhaps at 10 or 20 we should focus more on their humanity.

My personal / family position re: potential and my stepkids

I think that if we can raise our kids to love and receive love, to care for their physical health, and to be able to support themselves, then we’ve done a good job. The rest is icing on the cake.

What do you think? Is it irresponsible to sit back and watch our kids miss the mark?

Just scroll down and share your thoughts in the comments section. I love, love, love hearing from you.

xo, Yafa

Copyright 2016 Yafa Luria/Margit Crane All Rights Reserved


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