Let’s explore this potent question of living up to, or wasting, one’s potential.
Once we get that out of the way, we can actually get closer to the heart of the pain and confusion you are experiencing.
Think about the word itself: potential. It is built on the Latin root poten, or power. It’s closely related to other Latin roots of power, such as posse. Some examples: possess, possible, potential, potency, potentate.
Wasting one’s potential is like wasting one’s seed (in the Onanistic sense).
One possess one’s children. One lives on through them. One sees one’s power of material creation through them. I know this is all abstract when it comes to the rather quotidian notion of not wasting your potential, but bear with me. We’re going a bit subterranean here.
The fear of not expressing your potential is the fear of being impotent, which is related to the fear of death, or more rightly, non-existence.
One could say that the fear of non-existence is the fear of enlightenment, because…guess what happens when you are enlightened?
First of all, your self-ideation vanishes, gone, poof. And your idea of yourself is all that you are at the moment. Sure. there are times when you are quiet and watching a sunset, or meditating or whatever, where you momentarily lose your sense of self and become immersed in all that is. So lovely, isn’t it? To be momentarily unshackled to “yourself”? You might experience la petite mort during sex, where you lose yourself. Even thirty brief seconds of this is bliss. But how long does it take, really, until your idea of yourself reasserts its total primacy over your experience?
Waking up brings with it the incredible freedom (and mind boggling inconvenience) of non-existence, as well as a terrible intimacy with The Void.
The first is a mundane kind of death or non-existence, the latter, much more profound, ultimate, terrifying and irresistible.
Think back to when you were a little kid. When was the first time you feared not living up to your potential? For better or worse, small children are terribly potent. Assuming one is not drugging one’s kids literally with psycho pharma, or figuratively with eight hours of daily media consumption, that child is going to be frightfully potent every minute they are awake. There is some point where you became aware of this idea of your potential. And it wasn’t just potential in general, it was very personal, something you own or possess…everyone has their very own potential.
It’s a heavy burden. We are taught this idea of personal potential, and as adults we carry it as though it were a real thing, and we propagate it to others, in our culture and to our own children. I invite you to set the burden down for a while so you can contemplate the heart of it. You can always (and most likely will!) pick it right back up, so don’t worry about losing it. Just set it down for now.
I’m not going to give you answers. You’ve got to find those for yourself. Allow me to pose some questions for you to really go deeply into and see what you find.
What is your potential? Don’t just think about it abstractly, or intelligently. Feel it, lean into it, touch it and shake it and try to find the dimensions of it. What is this thing you possess (or which possesses you) that you call “my potential”? This will take you a while. One doesn’t just come up with a snappy answer, based on popular psychology or whatever. Get to know “my potential” intimately. What is it? What function has it had in your life? What function does it have now?
How does wasting your potential feel? At what point in your life will you definitively be able to claim that you have wasted your potential? Is there some endpoint where you will make a final assessment on this? Can you waste some of your potential and still be okay? Is it okay to waste 49% of your potential, or is it when you’ve let two thirds of the pie go to waste that you will truly have wasted your potential?
What should you be doing now that you are not doing? What part of your potential should you be claiming now that you are not? How have you determined this, what do you base this on? What are you doing instead?
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