If you could, would you want to know your potential?

I’m intrigued by the premise of a new AppleTV+ show, a comedy called The Big Door Prize (based on a novel of the same name by M.O. Walsh). A mysterious machine shows up in town and for a few bucks, it will tell you what your life’s potential is. I’m only one episode in, but it has me thinking: would you want to know your potential?

When I have broached this question with people this week, a common response is something along the lines of, “If it was a cool, guaranteed future, then yes, I’d definitely want to know!”

I mean, sure. Wouldn’t THAT be nice…

But I’ve been surprised at the conversations around NOT wanting to know what your potential is.

What’s the harm in knowing what you’re capable of?

When you picture having a clear vision of a future that would be really cool, do you feel inspired? Or do you feel resigned (I’ll never get that), shame (What’s wrong with me that I’m not doing that?) or guilt (I’m wasting my life!)?

I’m guessing that if you feel energized and inspired at what’s possible for you, you believe it could happen. If you feel resigned or shame or guilt, there’s something else going on.

Are there benefits to not knowing what you’re capable of? 

Maybe we don’t want to know our potential because we are afraid it means just doing more and working harder at the same thing we’ve been doing.

Like, living up to your potential means working a lot harder and you’re not sure you can work much harder. Perhaps we don’t want what is on the other side of all that effort–you know, more of the same.

Or would you be afraid that what you are currently doing IS living up to your potential? That there is nothing more for you than THIS. And you aren’t loving this life, so not knowing this might be IT at least keeps you hoping for something else.

We don’t want to know what our potential is because it just looks hard. Like a lot of work. Grinding, grinding, grinding. Or hopeless–we really wanted there to be more to this life for us and what if there isn’t?

(An aside: if you connect with that last statement, I want to encourage you with the truth that our lives are not static and if you have a yearning for something beyond where you are right now–either in work, relationships, spirituality, creativity–it is because it IS possible to change your life.)

What if discovering your actual life potential was about more joy, and peace and fun in your life, not just more work?

In the (albeit fictional) town where the show is set, people didn’t seem distressed when they discover and start to do the thing that is their potential life–they seem energized and happy. (I am keeping my eye on one character who didn’t get the response they were expecting.)

Having clarity and knowing what your potential is can bring a sense of contentment, joy and energy.

So back to the question: if you could, would you want to know your potential?

Because based on the conversations I have been having, not wanting to know seems to be based on avoiding the feelings of resignation, shame and guilt about what to DO with the information.  When I ask people if they would want to know their potential, their chief concern is about how much work it will take.

I’m like, EVEN IF IT IS GUARNTEEED SUCCESS doing what you would love to do?

Yeah, even then.

Because there is some stress with having and knowing your potential…pressure of living up to it or the fear of failure (or success). If you don’t have a healthy relationship with failure (as in, it’s the normal course of action along the way to ‘success’) or a health view of success (as in, it will not solve your problems, it will just amplify where your growth as a human is paramount to having a life of contentment and joy), then yeah, knowing your potential can definitely complicate your life.

Here are two questions I use with my coaching clients when we reach a conversation around the life they want and the resistance they feel to move towards it:

  1. What do you not want to give up for that?

  2. What are you willing to give up for that?

I know, it’s a real kicker.

Turns out, sometimes, people just want a comfortable life and are willing to give up a lot to not get uncomfortable. Which is fine, right? Life is pretty hard. If you can have some contentment and enjoy where you are at, go for it. I think it was Simon Sinek who talks about choosing two paths in life, and they are both equally good choices. One is to create a nice, comfortable life for yourself and your family and then enjoy it. The other is to create a life of impact that means constantly stretching yourself.

You likely know which direction you lean towards.

If you could know what was possible in your life and be sober-minded about what you were willing or not willing to do about it, would you want to know? The clarity of knowing yourself and letting go of an imagined life you just don’t want to pursue can be really freeing.

As James Clear says:

“It doesn’t make sense to continue wanting something if you’re not willing to do what it takes to get it. If you don’t want to live the lifestyle, then release yourself from the desire. To crave the result but not the process, is to guarantee disappointment.”

But if the idea of knowing what you are capable of excites you, let’s pretend I handed you a printout of what you are capable of and you just read it.

Check in with how you feel about knowing. Are you excited? Afraid? Not sure what to do next?

However you react to the idea of knowing what your potential is, here’s what to do next: figure out the smallest step to move that direction. Tiny. Once you get clear on where you currently are in relation to that life, you can see some possible gaps to figure out. So just pick the most nuclear, tiny step that will move you forward.

You can do it.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

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