What’s Your Potential?

I was listening to an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience (a very good podcast I discovered recently) where he was speaking to Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist. One of the topics which came up for discussion was potential. An unquantifiable value that human beings hold each other accountable for, despite it being vague and different for everyone. It brought back memories of the comments I used to receive in my report cards in school. George has so much potential.

For context: I was never a top student, neither was I at the bottom of the class. I was the very definition of average. I got by in my classes, wasn’t much of a nuisance to my teachers, and I didn’t participate in any delinquent activities. But when you were enrolled in one of the ‘top’ schools in the country (debatable, also subjective), there were expectations to be met.

I’m not sure how many kids received the same comments, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. While it seemed like a reasonable comment back then (my parents took it as a neutral-positive statement), in retrospect it was just another way of saying I was a shitty kid. I mean, think about it. Everyone has the potential to do almost everything they want to in life. As long as they are physically capable, it’s all up to them to work hard and practice the right skills and techniques correctly to accomplish their goals.

We all had the potential to become something. Whether that is something to be proud or ashamed of, nobody knows, we find out when it happens. If the teachers were blunt, they would have written: George hasn’t been showing any signs of being a future rocket scientist or doctor, he’s what we call in this school a disappointment. I guess if they wrote that, it would have probably been applicable to many other kids in the school as well. And there’s no way lil ol’ me could be the problem. It’s the fault of the school/teacher/education system! There would have been an uproar from the parents.

However, as I grew older, I realized that school wasn’t as important as adults had wanted me to believe. With each new phase of life, what I had learned in the previous one didn’t matter to me. High school didn’t prepare me for college. College didn’t prepare me for work. Nothing prepared me for life in the working world – I learned all I needed to learn for work while on the job! School was just an alternative name for daycare. We were being taken care of until we could go out to make our own money.

Back to my report card. Did my teachers have foresight? Did they know what I was going to be? I can’t say for sure. After all, they never told me what they thought my potential was. It’s vague statements like these that will haunt me until the day I die. What if I had already achieved my full potential? Does that mean I can’t do any better in life? Do the goalposts shift? Would I be capable of achieving more? How can I have so much potential if I don’t know where I am and what my limit is? It’s practically infinite, right?

And that’s how I ended up writing.

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