“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning
If I were to think of my life as a class and share the things that I have learned, I realize that I have gleaned significant insight in my relatively short life. But one of the most important lessons that I am still learning is the difference between living with potential and living up to your potential. There is a great distinction between the two.
If someone said, “Brian has so much potential” I would be tempted to take it as an insult. Because I would much rather hear someone say, “Wow, Brian really lives up to his potential. He is always trying something new, does his best to make a difference, and seems so happy.”
You see ‘potential’ means nothing if you don’t do anything with it. And to uncover your true potential you must first identify your own limits and then have the courage to reach beyond them. That’s the question that I want you to keep asking yourself even when the presentations are over today, “Am I living WITH my potential or living UP TO my potential?”
Breaking ground, setting trends, and leading by example can sometimes be lonely excursions. Those who have the imagination, the courage, and the perseverance to venture beyond the established boundaries can often be misunderstood or even unpopular.
However, trying new things can be scary, if not terrifying. It’s natural to have the tendency to remain within your comfort zone, purposely avoiding situations that cause you to have feelings of fear and anxiety. When we stop calling it “a dream” and start calling it “a plan,” life becomes limitless. However, we all have fears. But we must understand the difference between danger and fear. You see, danger is real, but fear is a choice.
During school, the biggest fear that I had was getting up in front of the class to present a weekly current event. I made every excuse in the world to not have to do it and even made the choice to take a zero in exchange for not participating. I have transcended from that kind of mindset to the one that has now spoken in 47 states and shared my message in 26 counties. The fear has not disappeared. I simply learned to triumph over fear.
In school, I had a learning disability. I suffered from dyslexia. However, I have now written two books and am about to publish out a third. These are pieces of work for which I am so proud.
Do I still have dyslexia? Yes.
Does it still rattle insecurities at sometimes? Yes.
Do I allow it to limit me? No, because you can’t stop someone who is not willing to quit. If you can see it, you can create it.
While it is important to know your limits, it’s more important not to allow self-imposed limitations that can hold you back. The person who never makes mistakes will never create anything new or exciting. And when you look at the world from that perspective, taking risks can be quite rewarding and liberating.
It comes back to the central question with risk-taking and potential—if you aren’t taking risks in your own life, are you living up to your potential or just with your potential?
Coasting in the comfort zone is like drifting at sea. It’s when we get out of the boat to chase the waves that we empower ourselves to survive. This is when we discover that fear is the only thing that stands in our way. Fear can paralyze us in the grips of the “What ifs?”
These questions plague us with thoughts of: What if I fail? What if others criticize me? What if I get hurt? What if I can’t get back to the comfort zone?
Instead, the questions should be: What if I never try? What if I can be more than I think? What if I am not living up to my potential? What if I don’t pursue my passion?
A favorite line of mine is from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, tells Dorothy, whose greatest wish is to get home, “You had the power all along, my dear.”
Your comfort zone is not an actual place, it is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety and reduced stress. It’s mostly where we reside when we are in default mode, not seeking anything and mostly just “being.” Minimal anxiety exists there and no stress that could possibly push us over the edge is allowed.
It is outside of this mindset where we face the challenges, and that’s where growth occurs. Stepping out is the hardest part, but once done, life takes on new meaning. Experiences beyond the norm surprise us, teach us, and make us better. This is where life is lived.