Potential is Funny That Way
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I’m amazed at how quickly my perspective can change. I walk the same path through the forest, day after day, and don’t recognize that familiarity dulls my delight—how the brown, barren landscape that has recently failed to catch my eye, holds the potential to rock my world. Then, when I least expect it, a simple dusting of snow and a lack of clouds suddenly turn an ordinary scene into a vibrant performance.
On the way down the path one day, my child voiced a concern:
“Mom, I’m not good at anything specific.”
He’s about to turn fourteen. Next year he’d be entering high school if we hadn’t stumbled upon a compound word my spell check just recently learned to identify: homeschooling. He’s been a great kid, an enjoyable companion and a Phillies fan the organization can be proud of. But he’s not stupid. He knows enough to know his concern is justified. Without internalizing the worst, he let his truth fly:
He’s not special. Even worse, he’s ordinary.
If you ever have a derogative thought about a person—like they have a big nose, bad hair, body odor, or they’re stupid, fat, gross, ugly or were cursed with an imperfection that requires ridicule, let me save you the trouble and say this: they already know.
I have confided in secret about my concerns for my son and coincidentally my main fear is the one he had just voiced. It’s true he’s never excelled at anything at a level that lends undeniable confidence to his future. The fact is, he has not one innate passion.
I did. I was born to ride a horse. It’s all that ever mattered. When I was two, I spent the entire year atop my Bronco Billy in my Cowboy Dan outfit. My mother stripped it off me when I slept, washed it, and snuck it back on before I woke.
I was that disturbed.
My son isn’t. When he rises in the morning, an obsessive nature doesn’t awaken. He chastises me for failing to get him out of bed sooner, checks baseball news, gets something to eat, jumps in for an overdue shower, pets the dog. Throughout the day, he goes to a few programs, hangs with his tutor, plays a little baseball and learns guitar. None of these things does he enthusiastically speak about when we’re alone. In no subject does he put forth the effort to exceed.
He’s not Randy Pausch who had a list of goals by the time he started grade school and completed them by the day he prematurely passed. He’s not one of the people on those billboards who, “Failed, failed, failed… and then…” He hasn’t tried anything to even earn the right to say he failed. He doesn’t have goals. He can’t even remember to make them. I don’t think he was born with the gene to conceive of them.
How can you manifest if you can’t conceive? What is there to work toward when life is undefined?
I have a friend. That friend has a friend who, after college, married a really great guy who wasn’t an exemplary student. The countless abilities for which he was admired had nothing to do with standardized achievement. Matter of fact, after he earned his bachelor’s with no accolades, he simply married his college sweetheart and got a job.
And was fired.
He came from nothing and was back to nothing. His father passed too young so he approached an in-law for advice and was told to start his own company. What option did he have? He took the advice. What he didn’t know was he was finally in the perfect position for him. He did what he did well—connect with people—and hired people who were very good at the stuff he wasn’t good at.
He was a great guy. He had charisma. He hired professionals. He treated them well.
He’s now a member of Fortune Magazine’s top 100.
My child’s coaches, tutors and instructors all say the same thing, “He’s a great kid.” His sitters, parents of his friends, relatives, even complete strangers comment that he’s “an awesome child.” He’s “a joy.” Grownups and adolescents alike love him and openly convey this love to me. In all honesty, they’d rather not bring him back home.
I shared all this with my son hoping it would suffice. I added examples of major league baseball players who were celebrated as “great people.” I scoured my mind for others to help make a believable point. Then I hoped I had.
I hoped because we intentionally chose homeschooling to foster our child’s natural inclination to follow his passion. But he still had none.
School is an enormous source of stress for kids. It’s an immense source of stress for parents. Kids are looking at colleges as freshmen. They’re building vitae in grade school. School is synonymous with tension. Tension is indicative of anxiety. A blood relative of that is fear.
In an ironic dichotomy, my husband and I chose a strategy of learning for our child that is unconventional in an effort to minimize stress, and low and behold, I had found a way to be anxious that had nothing to do with school.
Does fear have to be a factor in everything?!
I got so wrapped up in thinking that each moment should deliver the profound that I forgot a mountain is just a steep hunk of rock until it snows. Potential is funny that way. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
That’s what makes this world tough. We operate within a universe we claim is expansive—it’s infinitely vast. And it includes everything we think we can imagine at this moment. We believe it embraces all the possibilities that could ever exist.
But what if the truth was, everything we could ever imagine at this moment was but a quarter in the atmosphere? Would you want your paradigm squished into that? Would you want to operate within those confines?
Is the secret not only to dream but to dream what hasn't been dreamed?
I looked at my child. I looked at myself. I have a few passions: one I address twice a day doing chores at my barn come rain or shine. The other you’re reading at this moment. But do I do them with excellence? Do I have the guts to dream in 3D?
Am I strong enough to overcome the forces that test my diligence? Is due diligence the only quality that counts?
If the secret to manifesting dreams is to be in the moment, how do I spend each of them? How did my kid come to his conclusion and, more importantly, what feeling does he harbor in the present that led to it?
I don’t want him going through life thinking someday he’ll be good at something. I want him to believe at this very moment that he is. He’s a great person. He’s likable and he likes to connect with people. He loves to collaborate in groups and contribute to furthering the goals of the whole in the present.
I guess his test of diligence is mastering the only thing that’s the springboard to each future moment—the feeling. I want him to feel capable of the future while he maintains presence of mind.
Which means one thing: The next time he fears failure, I better be on my game, in the present, living my big dream.
I better feel like I’m worth a fortune.
Because I am.
It’s the only thing we need to believe.