I love hearing about the aspirations of others. There is so much potential in each of us, and it takes the slightest effort to draw it out…a well timed question, genuine interest and then watch as other’s share their deepest callings and longings. It transforms a person when they speak about their potential; their body relaxes with the acknowledgement of this desired future state, or gets animated with fervor and belief in themselves. It is a beautiful transformation to behold. There are also those who know they have more to give, but are still seeking the right outlet, the right space to fill with their potential; these conversations follow many paths, concern because they “don’t know”, hopeful patience because they feel “it will come”, or fear that they cannot fulfill the longing for possibilities they know they hold within themselves, feeling their gifts languish.
Too often when I ask what steps they are taking to begin this path (whether that means taking steps to see their plans through or to figure out what is calling) there is silence…a silence filled with stillness born in fear. If I don’t react to what she just asked maybe no one will see I am too scared to move into this future unknown state. Excuses come, “I am too busy right now”, “My family is growing”, “My workplace is laying off staff”, “My parents need me”, “I wanted to have more money saved up”, etc. There is always a reason for “can’t”. Except that tomorrow is built on the lens of today, meaning that if your lens is composed of why you can’t do it, then it will not happen. Not for you.
Dejected? Good. It shows that your need to activate your highest future potential is strong within you, so take a deep breath and harness that strength; fortify it with intention. There are considerations to change that “can’t” lens into a path forward that do not include re-mortgaging your home, getting a small business loan from your bank or marching into your CEO’s office demanding a promotion. It is simply about changing the lens from one that says “I can’t” or “Not now” to “This is what calls to me” and “I am curious”. In other words, what are you building for your future self? What you begin building in your calling today becomes what you have in place to support your highest potential tomorrow. So how can you do that?
The first consideration is to evaluate your own self-awareness. How are you getting in your own way? Is your desired future state something you are really committed to or is it based on expectations and “safe” outcomes? Is it so big that it scares you away from commitment? Figure out what is getting between you and what you know you can do. I worked with a client who wanted to find his career passion, and when we began he was committed to getting his MBA as his next step and “entrance ticket” to wherever he wanted to go. As our work together unfolded he came to understand that the reason he had never enrolled in that MBA program (despite having the means and opportunity) was because while it was a solid dream steeped in reality, it wasn’t what he really wanted to do. He found the prospect of taking on a rigorous academic program was creating a level of angst in him that was not sustainable, and while he was more than capable of graduating at the top of his class, he had zero motivation to put the rest of his life on hold to do that. Our work together focused on what was really calling to him, and for him short term goals that built future opportunities turned out to be what he needed right now. He invested in a course he was very interested in taking, which, at some future point, could be accredited to an academic program but was much more manageable and would clearly help build capabilities and capacity in his current role and future career. He learned to rest in the unknown, recognizing his need to have a clear plan had been the driver for the rigorous MBA + high-powered career goal he had set for himself. That was based on an ideal, not on reflecting what he really wanted. So for now he is enjoying a deep exploration of career options, speaking with others about their career passions and taking academic courses that interest him, satisfying his curiosity. He is OK that he doesn’t have “the plan”, he has “a plan” and at some point in the future that MBA may happen, but if it does it will be because it is what he really wants and it will not require him to put everything else on hold to make it happen. When actions are part of a heartfelt plan to build what you need, even something as demanding as an MBA can be pursued with less anxiety, allowing it to be a supportive action that is pleasurable. Build your self-awareness, if what you have sketched out for yourself evaporates at the slightest hint of commitment, ask yourself “Why?” If you are unable to sketch something, and you don’t know why, getting help in your process could be the answer.
The next consideration is building awareness around your dream/passion/plan’s resiliency. Things that have deep meaning for us can come with all kinds of emotions. Tangibly taking steps (even small ones) that lead to the realization of your dream is never a straight line. It will involve disappointment and the need to be open and flexible to get you where you want to go. When we hold on to a dream so tightly nothing but the vision we had mapped out in our mind will do, the slightest setback will halt all progress and create stuck-ness. I worked with a client who had a flourishing leadership career ahead of her. She had a very clear and reasonable course mapped out for herself, and was working with me to help transition her into her first leadership position. Things were going well, when all of the sudden the wind went out of her sails and she was questioning everything about her plan. From deeply committed passion to hurt confusion in less than a day. This client’s place of work had offered 360-degree feedback to all of their emerging leaders, and she had expected to “ace” the results. She wasn’t prepared for the possibility that there was much opportunity for her to develop within her newly unfolding leadership skills (as the assessment pointed out) and was unable to see past her results to the benchmarks that demonstrated she was ahead of her cohort; there were no real flags beyond inexperience. What she saw in the data was that she wasn’t leadership material, and that meant scrapping everything to build a new plan, one that didn’t pivot on promotion. Eventually through our coaching work together she was able to embrace what the assessment offered, allowing it to inform some concrete developmental steps that built a solid foundation for her leadership career plan. Today she will tell you that assessment was the best thing that ever happened to her, and she carries the lessons she learned with her into her current development plan and the application of her accomplished leadership skills.
What this points to is a call to action, not just a hope, a dream or a “future commitment”. While resting in the promise of what you will do or execute on in the future can be “enough”, it may also be where you are stuck (how long has it been since you created this future vision…are you any closer to it? Do you want to be?). There are always actions you can take today that build capabilities to help you tomorrow, even when you don’t have a plan. Give yourself permission, empower yourself to own your potential today and not become a passive traveller on the most obvious path (or the current one). Know that only you can chart the course of your future, only you can truly unlock all of your potential. If you are waiting for someone else to do it, it will not happen, not in any meaningful way. Pursue your calling with intention. If you don’t know what is calling (but you know you have more to give), then explore. If you know what you want but are scared to make it “real”, take small steps to build both courage and capabilities as you go. Don’t “boil the ocean” (think it all has to happen at once) and don’t wait for others to give you “permission” to pursue whatever is calling to you. Do you want to spend your time in life “going” somewhere, or do you want to spend it being there? When you activate your highest future potential it can take you to the places you long to go and to where you belong.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don't much care where—“ said Alice.
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
(Source: Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland Through the Looking Glass)