The Problem with potential

I have lived under the burden of having “potential” for as long as I can remember. I’m the oldest daughter of two progressive parents who have always told me, “You can do anything you dream of"!

The problem with potential is that you’re always looking to fulfill it.

That means you’re as good as a plumped-up hen until you reach that moment of accomplishment. The other problem of potential is that you never really know once you’ve met it. For me, that has meant I never really feel satisfied.

When I was in high school, I thought college would make me feel free from my parents' rules. When I found myself in the midst of university life, I was daydreaming about the accomplishments and roles I’d have after graduation. When I was dating my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I was looking toward wedding planning. When I was planning a wedding, I just couldn’t wait to be done with it and finally be married.

I see this problem often in women: We don’t know how to celebrate arriving at a hoped-for future because there is always the potential for more. We don’t know how to live the life we’ve been dreaming of because we have been conditioned to always look for a better way.

I found myself face-to-face with this reality when I had finally finished school, moved out of my parent’s house, was married and pregnant. On paper, I was living my dream life. However, I was curled around the toilet with morning sickness for 90% of my non-sleeping hours. It was in these moments I realized that there was no way for me to work myself out of this situation and into a better one.

The only way through this tough pregnancy was to endure it. I had to cede my potential, the shinier version of me who could dress with the cutest bump fashions, work long hours and get ahead professionally. My reality, rather than my potential, was what ended up saving me.

I had to fully be in the present, celebrate victories, like making a new friend, and be willing to do unseen work such as staying late at work. This flew in the face of how I had approached life in the past, and making it to the other side gave me confidence to live all of life this way. Here are the biggest changes I’ve made since I shifted my mindset:

Stop scanning for the next best thing.

It’s impossible to get comfortable when you’re looking for a better option from the get-go. If you can’t settle into a job or relationship, there is no time to tell if it’s a good fit for you. Try to be present and sink into whatever work you’re doing at the moment, be it professional or personal. This will open you up to feeling grounded in your place in life.

Celebrate victories.

Nothing will burn you out faster than working tirelessly and not enjoying your wins. Stop and celebrate, even if it’s just with a tiny bottle of champagne for one. Don’t belittle this by telling yourself you should be achieving something greater than you are—and immediately look for what that should be.

Devote time to unseen work.

Often the unseen work is what makes you feel most fulfilled. The long nights hashing out the same worthwhile disagreement with your boyfriend or the text messages to your grandmother with Alzheimer’s. This work is sacred, precisely because it doesn’t bring any accolades or public appreciation. In my own life, this was looking for friends in a brand new community. We only knew for sure we’d stay for a year, but I knew it would be a very lonely year if I only had my husband to hang out with. This ended up being my favorite investment, because we found ourselves living in the same community four years after our one-year guarantee came and went.

Hayley Morgan

Hayley Morgan is the Chief Creative Officer of the ethical clothing brand Wildly Co. and co-author of the new book Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She is Both Too Much and Never Enough.


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