If you have the feeling that you aren’t living up to your full potential, then congratulations!  You are right on track and with the awareness of what’s blocking you, I’m going to help you see that you do have a bright future ahead of you.

From the time you were young, you probably were given different aptitude tests to help your teachers and your parents figure out what your strengths were and how to guide you toward reaching your full potential.  Depending on where you grew up, the school system you attended, and the family you grew up in, you may have gotten a lot of opinions about what you should become in the future.

If you were anything like me, you showed an aptitude in math and were encouraged to look into accounting as a career.  Maybe you were also told that accounting was a “good career for women” and that you would be well served going to college for accounting.

First let me say that having help navigating life at a young age is wonderful, but sometimes you can get so swept up in the suggestions and guidance of others, that you don’t take the time to stop and ask yourself what you really want.  Next thing you know, you are stuck in a job or career you don’t particularly like, feeling unfulfilled and directionless, or you would like to make some changes but feel challenged and uncertain.

This is an issue for a lot of professionals, especially working moms.  There often comes a point in a working mom’s career where, despite her efforts and achievements, she lacks a true sense of professional and personal satisfaction and fulfillment, or she wants to advance or grow in some way but just doesn’t know if it’s possible.

This can lead to a mixture of unhappiness, regret and frustration with what you have now, and a longing for something more.  This tug-of-war between what you were told and experienced in the past, and the possibility in the future of being, doing or having more, can leave you feeling trapped and hopeless, sensing that time is running out.

Does this sound like you?  Have you even allowed yourself to dream about what you could be or could achieve?  Think about it for a minute – if money, time and opportunity weren’t an issue, what would you consider going after?  What seems impossible to you right now?

It’s important to look beyond what you may have been told in the past was possible for you, and allow yourself to have a bigger vision.  It’s only been in the last 20 years that science has advanced enough to see deep into the structure of the brain and prove that we aren’t hard-wired to reach some set potential; that we have much more capabilities than we have ever realized.

You no longer have to limit yourself based on some aptitude test taken in grade school or by your genetics because we now know so much more about how your brain is wired and how to rewire it.  You no longer have to try to search for your potential, as if you were born with a unique “potential key” and need to find and unlock that one elusive door that hides the answer to your happiness and fulfillment.

As a woman and a mother, you most likely have a lot of limiting beliefs about your potential.  Also, depending on your race, your culture and where you grew up, you probably have added layer upon layer of restrictions and limitations on the prospects for your future when it comes to things like how much money you can make, how far you can advance in your career, and what you’re capable of achieving.

The key to your potential is truly understanding the story you tell yourself about what’s possible.  Once you see the power of all the past contributors, editors and illustrators of your story, you can then begin to create a new narrative.   

This week I’m going to discuss what potential really is and what might be blocking you from reaching your full potential.

What potential really is

If you grew up hearing something like, “You’re going to be just like your mother (father/sister/uncle)”, you probably accepted, or maybe bristled at the idea of following in someone else’s footsteps.  As children we are compared to and contrasted with the other children around us, as well as our family members, in order to determine where our potential lies.

If you’re like me, you probably heard a lot about potential when you were in school and then when eventually deciding to further your education in college.  When I was in 10th grade my high school offered a bookkeeping class that I excelled at, and my teacher encouraged me to continue on the accounting path, as she believed I had the potential to become a CPA.

Interestingly, from a young age we are taught to think that potential is something we can have and then possibly lose.  We are taught to be very careful to not try to open too many different doors with that special “potential key”, and that our life will be so much easier if we could just open the correct door as early as possible in our life.

Unfortunately what eventually happens for a lot of working moms, is that you come to a pause in your journey and question whether you’re living up to your full potential.  This pause often creates a lot of shame and confusion, as if you are doing something wrong or wasting precious time and there is a “potential clock” just ticking down.

Maybe you’ve reached that point and have a desire for something different or something more.  Perhaps you want to figure out what your potential is and how to achieve it, or you just know that you don’t want to be doing what you’re doing and are afraid you missed your opportunity to reach your full potential.

The good news that I want to share with you is something that I learned a while ago – you can never live up to your potential, because it’s always in the future.  Your potential, by definition, is something you COULD be, but AREN’T, yet which means that there is no predetermined door that you need to feel ashamed of, or confused about, not yet opening.

If you feel that you haven’t reached your full potential, you are correct, and there’s nothing that has gone wrong.  None of us have reached our full potential yet because, if we choose to, we always have more potential to grow into, and as much time as we want to keep exploring.

Until you take your final breath, your potential is meant to be undetermined, expansive, and ever-changing.  You are only ever limited by what you believe about yourself and your ability to achieve what you want.  

The most important thing to know about potential is that it’s an option.  How you choose to think about yourself, your life, your past and your future is all optional and available when you learn what really creates your potential in the first place. 

Because you have a human brain, your potential is only limited by what you believe your potential is.  Although an oak tree seed only has the potential to become an oak tree, as a human you have the ability to create your potential whenever you decide you want to.

I’ve known women in their 60’s who decided to shift gears and completely change career paths, as well as other mid-career working moms who chose to become entrepreneurs after being an employee for decades.  If you are one of the working moms who thinks they “missed the boat”, think again. 

Like a lot of professionals, you may believe that your potential equals your resume so you keep struggling to add more and more experience, knowledge and expertise to your portfolio.  You may think that your potential is like an object that you can pick up, put down or misplace.

But, like having a Master Key that unlocks every door in a hallway of an infinite number of doors, your potential is only limited by what you tell yourself about your past and what you believe about what’s possible for you in the future.

Your potential isn’t limited or definitive; it’s always some future growth and evolution that you get to keep exploring.  You may have been born with certain strengths and abilities, but that doesn’t mean there is some predetermined potential that you need to find or else you have failed.

You are supposed to have space to grow into and undeveloped potential to consider.  If that wasn’t true, there would be no greater sense of excitement, courage, accomplishment and happiness to experience.

As you go through life, you always have more and more potential in front of you, offering you possibilities when you are ready to do the work to remove what’s blocking you.  The only thing stopping your potential is you.

What might be blocking you

When I was an accounting student in college, I remember the professor saying things like “Garbage in, garbage out” when he was teaching us how to compile financial statements.  Now decades later, computer science has adopted the GIGO acronym to express the idea that flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output.

The same thing happens with your human brain.  The more flawed the programming is that you have about your potential, and the more you believe and perpetuate the story about what’s not possible, then the more your actions and results will confirm the story.

When you think about your potential and what’s possible for your future, like most people, you probably look to your past for evidence.  When you think about what you can create for you and your family, you most likely have many reasons and lots of proof, for what’s not worth even considering.

If that’s true for you, then it’s important to know that one of the most powerful things that your brain does is look to match a current belief with evidence from the past.  For example, if you want to learn how to ski, your brain scours your past for proof of anything resembling skiing ability and, without your conscious awareness of why, you wind up feeling either excited about the opportunity or fearful and discouraged.

In this example, if your brain saw you skateboarding when you were younger or doing other winter sports in the past that take a lot of coordination, you would most likely feel somewhat capable of learning how to ski.  On the other hand, if your brain didn’t find evidence from your past of some skiing-related ability, you would most likely feel unsure and incapable, believing what your brain is definitively telling you about your skiing potential. 

What’s so fascinating is that this all happens unconsciously and often instantaneously.  Interestingly, you’ve probably gotten the message that “Past performance is the best predictor of future success” and assume that whatever happened in the past will determine your future.

However, just like your home has a thermostat you can set to whatever temperature is the most comfortable for you, your brain also has a thermostat that, when faced with certain conditions, makes necessary adjustments in order to recalibrate comfort and sameness.  To this part of the brain, the past is known and comfortable, and the future isn’t.

This “the past = the future” part of your brain means well and is always trying to keep you safe, but it doesn’t have the capability to understand how to create a future that’s different from the past.  Thankfully, the decision making part of your brain does, and it’s what you need to utilize more if you want to go after something new, different or challenging.

It’s also important to note that when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, those feelings are like vacuums sucking up the idea of potential.  Those all too familiar feelings that accountants, and especially working moms, experience more often than not, are the antithesis of feelings that fuel potential-taking action.

In order to flip the switch, I suggest you get clear about what you would like for the future and start practicing thoughts that begin with “Maybe…” or “It’s possible that…”.  Gently loosening the grip your brain has on the past, and directing it towards the possibility of some future moment in time, is how to start removing the blocks to reaching your full potential.  

Your potential is much more expansive than the protective part of your brain has allowed you to even fathom.  When you can tap into the advanced, future-focused part of your brain, there are options and possibilities that you may have never even considered, or may have given up hoping for. 

From now on, I hope you explore your potential with an open mind and not let anyone else dictate what’s possible for you.  Your future will always be bright, when you decide that it is.

Summary  

  • It’s only been in the last 20 years that science has advanced enough to see deep into the structure of the brain and prove that we aren’t hard-wired to reach some set potential; that we have much more capabilities than we have ever realized.
  • Your potential, by definition, is something you COULD be, but AREN’T, yet which means that there is no predetermined door that you need to feel ashamed of, or confused about, not yet opening.
  • Like having a Master Key that locks every door in a hallway of an infinite number of doors, your potential is only limited by what you tell yourself about your past and what you believe about what’s possible for you in the future.
  • Gently loosening the grip your brain has on the past, and directing it towards the possibility of some future moment in time, is how to start removing the blocks to reaching your full potential.