If you’re reading this, it’s not likely because you’re a slacker or a procrastinator. Most likely, you’re the type of person that is kept up at night worrying about the future. You’re the type of person that’s invested in self-improvement, always trying to find ways to better yourself.
These are all good traits, but may work against you…especially when the anxiety begins to weigh you down. You may work hard, have talent and be intelligent, but these aren’t the secrets to success; they’re merely tools. It’s handy to have them, but you have to know how to use them in order to reach your maximum potential.
Between training for tennis, managing my academics and securing an internship, I’ve been discovering new ways to uncover my own untapped potential. Here are some of the methods I’ve come up with:
1. Embrace Your Individuality
This is a hard thing to do when everyone around you is trying to get you to conform to a particular mold or stereotype. Especially in the crucial stages of adolescence, it’s important to understand what makes you you. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, talents and interests are all part of embracing your individuality.
If you have a knack for arts and crafts, it’s easy to accept your talent as useless or listen to the critics that tell you it’s a hopeless line of work. But if it weren’t for the people that like to paper mache and refurbish wood, we wouldn’t have beautiful, handcrafted journals or uniquely refinished furniture. Places like Etsy wouldn’t even exist.
In the book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer discusses the secrets to creative success. He conveys how the interchange of ideas between professionals in varying fields helps stimulate creativity. Differing beliefs, interests and talents, as well as a healthy dose of the unfamiliar, are what produce some of the most successful innovations.
2. Take More Risks
It seems the initial reaction of young professionals is not to speak up, as if keeping quiet is the road to a promotion. While this may apply to some situations, you can’t dismiss the fact that your ideas may be as good as any of your coworkers, or that any question you may have is likely thoughtful and valid. The issue is that the fear of failure always seems to override the chance to succeed.
Nine out of ten times, your question won’t be stupid…your idea won’t be considered dumb. For the one time it is, don’t sweat it. Few people are fired over dumb questions; a lot more are promoted due to sharp ideas. And most importantly, you don’t want someone else to come up with that same idea later on and reap the rewards. The “what ifs”are always the worst.
3. Don’t Worry About Things Out of Your Control
This is a big one for me. There will always be that one teacher that is determined to give you a B no matter how much you deserved an A. Some days, the traffic may be so bad that it takes you two hours to get home from work, even though you live five miles away. You’ll be sick during finals week. You’ll be judged for how you look. People close to you will change.
The key is: Life happens. While it’s easy to fret and blame others or ourselves for the things that are inevitable, it doesn’t help get us anywhere. Most importantly, it doesn’t help us grow as a person. Why give yourself early gray hairs for something you couldn’t have helped?
As much as people tell you otherwise, you have control over your happiness. While you can’t always control the bad things that happen to you, such as being dumped by a boyfriend or a family member passing away, you can control how you respond. While you may grieve for a while, how you channel your emotions afterward is what’s important. You can lock yourself in a room for a week or you can go for a run; the choice is yours.
This idea also translates to the professional world. When you don’t get a promotion, you can mope around feeling sorry for yourself or you can work even harder. You can handle criticism with a heavy heart or you can use it to fuel your ambition. The people that make it to the top get there because they never gave up.
The most important thing is entering a new situation without too many expectations. Expectations are the surest route to disappointment. This doesn’t mean undervaluing yourself, but diving in with an open mind and open heart. Oftentimes, the things we have planned for ourselves don’t turn out to be as great as the paths we happen upon by circumstance.
Whether you’re graduating high school or starting a business, your potential is something that should always be ruminating in the back of your mind. Ask yourself what your goals are. They could be as simple as writing in your journal that night, or they could be as big as being hired by NASA. When you ask yourself, “Is it possible?” know that the answer is always “yes.”
Some people believed I would be a strong, high school tennis player. Others believed I would go pro. The only thing that ever mattered to me was what I thought. And when people asked, “What’s your goal?” I’d always answer: “To see how far I can get.”