For the first month of Corona-chaos, I did not fulfill my potential. Not even slightly. I was supposed to be writing book promo materials.
But after a medical quarantine that led me to a hospital for a chest X-ray, swab testing, and then back home to isolation, the only thing I managed to write was my panic-driven will.
Like everyone, I continued adjusting to life under unfamiliar and difficult circumstances.
Despite all the talk of this new ‘normal’ and the constant flow of people getting creative on social media, I struggled to find the motivation to continue with my work.
As a writer, storyteller, and kitchen sink philosopher, I should have been in my element creating relevant content to share. I’d just spent a year writing a book that explored how increased self-awareness offers the freedom to live to our full potential.
After years of helping my clients to tell their business stories in an authentic way, I was finally doing work that motivated and fulfilled me.
Our lives are far more meaningful when we explore the world’s possibilities to reach our highest potential.
I took a loan and worked full-time on the book aiming to get published this year. A lofty goal perhaps, but one that I would never know I could hit unless I tried.
Why we need to set goals
Goals are important because they organise us, and offer a sense of stability, through having clear purpose and direction to aim for.
Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, used the metaphor that people are like archers, who need a clear target at which to aim.
My target was publication, so I spent the early months of 2020 prepping pitch materials for agents and publishers.
Then the reality of the pandemic hit along with the lack of oxygen in my lungs, I took a brief but dark dip into oblivion, comparison and wobbling self-doubt.
I learned how difficult it was to be taken seriously as an unknown author in this world of celebrity and Instagram influencers.
One thing became clear: despite having champions of the book, a bigger audience was required. Regardless of how good the work was, I needed to build an empire before pitching to the industry.
This empire would be my platform, the soapbox from which I communicate online; Facebook, YouTube, my blog, Medium, and Instagram.
The road ahead seemed impossibly steep. The flag I’d been carrying with gusto up the mountain became unwieldy. How would I ever reach the summit and plant it in personal victory now?
I adapted my target and began to build an audience from the ground up, delaying my approach to agents. It sounds mature and considered, but I stamped my small indignant feet like a toddler first, protesting the wisdom of Aristotle and the dark arts of publishing.
Setbacks can kick us in a better direction
Weeks later, I realised I needed to re-infuse my gloomy mental health with some light. I started to take adventures into nature.
Cycling around my local lake on Easter Sunday, socially distancing around joggers and parents pushing prams, I began to ponder a question that had been sitting in my peripheral vision.
I’ve written this as yet unpublished book about living to our highest potential, but how can humankind do this amid the upheaval and uncertainty?
And how would I personally adapt my plans around the change?
Ancient Stoic philosophy taught us that leading a good life is internal rather than external, it’s something that we can control.
The world is unpredictable, we can’t rely on external events, we can only rely on ourselves and how we respond to them. Our action is required to overcome destructive emotions.
A creative spark flickered weakly into life.
I realised that through this transformation the world is offering us an unprecedented opportunity: to adapt ourselves and contribute to the new normal.
As an individual, only I can take control of my actions and continue to live to my best potential.
I pondered the significance of the holy day. We all have the power to resurrect ourselves from the ashes of the world we once knew. The death of our old world makes way for the birth of the new.
Which means we must let go of what was. By all means mourn it, remember it fondly and become ok with navigating into new territory. Because change is required of us all.
But is reaching our highest potential ever possible?
First up, we must define ‘highest potential’ for the malarkey it is. Let’s not fall into the trap of believing it must be some amazing life-saving invention or one brilliant achievement.
Are you wearing a hero’s cape in your imagination in pursuit of a high aspirational goal? Does it involve winning the Nobel Peace Prize or an Oscar?
Does that stop you dead in your tracks because you don’t know how to earn such accolades? I know it did me for many years.
Changing what it means
And does the term ‘highest potential’ rule out more humble aspirations?
Is it worth any less to strive towards ‘reaching our best potential’ or ‘living to our full potential’, even if our one giant accomplishment or many combined achievements aren’t going to change the world at large?
Be careful not to set yourself up for failure with unrealistic expectations, but don’t limit yourself by what others think of your capabilities.
No-one knows us like we know ourselves and self-knowledge is the key to living to our best potential.
Aristotle said that every moment in your life, even the embarrassing ones, can be used to gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
What inspires you?
Our own personal brand of potential is tied up to realising our innate talents and abilities, the things that motivate and inspire us.
Since I was a small child, communication and storytelling burned in me. But over the years, life took over and I somehow lost the naked truth of who I was under the weight of the costumes I wore.
Labels like ‘Mother’, ‘breadwinner’, ‘sole parent’, all fitted, but was ‘author’ among them? I couldn’t guarantee the outcome but I needed to do it and prove to myself that it could be.
I hired a desk in a co-work space and researched and wrote and thought and wrote and enlisted an editor and made endless rewrites until I’d written a whole book.
I may end up being far poorer financially, but it has provided a wealth of experience and some challenging self-actualisation.
So what does it mean to self-actualise?
As human beings, we have basic psychological needs for personal growth and development throughout our lives, to self-actualise; the realisation or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth.
He believed that we all have a desire to self-actualise and said, “This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualisation.”
How can we best pursue self-actualisation during lockdown?
We have no idea how things will turn out or how the world will look on the other side of the pandemic.
Let’s ponder how we might adapt that lofty goal to self-actualise, or become true to your own nature and at peace with yourself, as we all embark on a new journey into the unknown world post-pandemic.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What is my true nature?
What’s the overarching essence of you? What do you love? What are your strengths? What would you like to do more of? How well do you know yourself?
If I could reinvent myself who would I become?
Write this character out as if you were cast in a film of your own life, the one you want to live from today.
Keep it real but don’t limit yourself by what others think are your capabilities. We can all challenge ourselves to learn new things. What is important to you?
What do I need to do to become this new version of me?
Make a list of habits you need to break or make and set yourself goals: what can you do in the next 7, 30, and 90 days?
Then write a 1, 5, and 10-year-plan. Find a friend to check in with to keep yourself honest.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle
Persist, expect to fail or stumble, then reset the goalposts
You will make mistakes and life will throw you curveballs. The world’s most successful people embrace, navigate change, and remain persistent. They don’t quit, they adapt.
How are you adapting to embrace the change we face through this pandemic?
For me, it means continuing to write about the human condition and interact creatively with others, regardless of the outcome.
If this is what living the dream is about, then I will live it, in whatever way is meaningful to me. It isn’t about the end game, pages stitched together in a book. It’s about communicating a message.
You won’t reach your full potential by holding on to where you are today. You’ll need to step out of your comfort zone, set goals, focus, expand your knowledge, and your boundaries.
We can all be pioneers in our own lives, even in the time of Corona.
What steps will you take today towards self-realisation?
For me, it’s time to step out of my mind and into the world outside, to open a meaningful conversation with you about the fundamental issues of human existence.