Bettering Yourself and Reaching Your Potential

“You’re trying to better yourself.”  It’s weird how I so vividly recall a co-worker telling me that years ago when I got accepted into graduate school.  It’s also weird how much I hate that term, “bettering myself.”  I’m “trying to better myself.”  What does that even mean?

Sure, in the literal sense it means that you’re looking to improve, but what would I feel the need to “try to better myself?” At the time I was, and I still am, a pretty awesome person.  That’s not something that I say out of some sort of insecurity or arrogance, but it’s something I say because we all possess our own sense of awesomeness and that’s an absolute fact.

It’s unfortunate that I, or anyone else for that matter, can get so hung up on a phrase that’s meant as a compliment.  Clearly I intrepet(ed) this phrase as a subtle message of “right now, you suck.”  To me, a better terminology would’ve been telling me that I was “seeking to fulfill my potential,” or that I was (and still am) striving to be the person that I’m meant to be.  Which leads me to my next point…

I wonder how many people really feel as if they’ve reached their full potential.  I’ve read that nobody ever really hits their full potential, and that the closest you actually can come to it is skimming alongside of it.  I can’t necessarily disagree with that conclusion.  I always feel I could’ve done “a little bit better,” regardless of how well I did on something.  For example, I once called my parents after I received a 100 on an exam in graduate school because I felt stupid and that I could’ve done better on the exam.  My dad asked “how could you have done better than a 100?” I simply told him “I just don’t feel like I deserved getting a 100 in the first place.”  Maybe it was a lack of confidence at the time (it was my first semester of grad school), or maybe it is just the fact that I often feel I could’ve done better than whatever I actually did.

I wonder if someone like Wayne Gretzky feels like he reached his potential.  Of course he’s arguably one of the top three or four hockey players of all-time (he’s number one on some lists, but as “low” as number three or four on others) and he scored 894 goals during his career, but he also took 5,089 shots on goal.  Of course, it’s unreasonable to think that he could’ve scored on every single shot that he took during his career, but I’m just pointing out that in theory, he could’ve scored far more than 894 goals during his career.

So in the end, what does it really mean to reach your potential? Is it a matter of performing to the best of your abilities and knowing that you truly could not have done better? And if it is that, then how do you know when you absolutely could not have done any better? I think I need to investigate this topic more…

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