The Despair of Potential

When unknown possibilities control you rather than inspire


Author’s Note: Originally written in 2014 during a brood, after making the leap from my first successful startup to the ultra-educational chase of endless potentials.

It has come in bursts for as long as I can remember. Whispered at first in childhood by parental units after every report card and by teachers in-between the reports. By coaches and friends after victory — ones misunderstood.

Like a terrifying rip in the fabric of time and space, a million possibilities pour in and open the floodgates of hormones and chemicals hellbent on producing irrationality.

You are potential, and I fear your roar.

It lies in wait.

  • For an evening’s conversation on the shape of things to come
  • For a walk in spring-born parks
  • For a reckless trip overseas
  • For any given travel experienced through train or plane window

But I was taught principles.

Potential hates them. It cringes and weeps like a spoiled child for more attention when principles are employed. It is forced to be practical, to be analyzed, to fit into reality’s measured spaces.

With these dramatic statements and conclusions in mind, let me tell you a story. One without an ending … or rather one that ends constantly, like an isolated fruit tree in a tropical climate — its fallen produce with no courier:

In 2014, I left a successful startup which had entered a mature phase of structure and routine. It is safe to say it was no longer a “startup” at this stage. From the early, kitchen-table days, a singular, great, undefined potential had formed in me the seemingly irrational (at the time) commitment and the principle of dedication.

Nearly four years in, we had proven our great, boot-strapped success. There were perks and parties — and we still had some jam sessions during our semi-loose “working hours” — yet the unknowns and experiments were being replaced by safer, more corporate, tried-and-true methods and policies.

From the outakes and post-lunch experiments of the earlier days

The solid, singular focus, driven by compelling unknowns shared with the rest of the core/founding team, was slowly changed by the awe of new, external ideas.

I battled the possibilities of life’s potential day and night.

At first, they were developing within the capacity of known technology and my own bio-processor.

Soon, the limitations of business and development realities controlled and reminded in due measure: fences are everywhere and the grass beyond is waiting — on something, probably you, to grow even more lush and green.

Temporary respite came only in escapism:

  • Through social wanderings and experiments of late nights
  • Through adventure travel
  • Through any number of what I thought were harmless distractions

Yet these led to even more dangerous thoughts and ever-expanding spirals of possibility.

Over the Pacific

Some were bred from a wanna-be poet’s romanticized fears:

  • Of youth’s end
  • Of falling or failing graces
  • Of inaction and the unexplored.

I saw dreamers appeasing their dreams through a prideful filter — operating routines and submitting to acceptance of a life without fulfillment.

After my second run through various cities and regions of Southeast Asia, it hit me.

There were conversations and events, experiences and discoveries of a radically different culture I simply could not shake off.

After the honeymoon-bliss of comfortable assurance for return visits and further exploration, I decided to take action.

I merged my uncanny curiosity with my principles.

Employing rational planning and wide-eyed optimism, I allowed my mind to truly venture with purpose. A guiding question formed:

What have I learned, what should I learn, and how can I apply it to be fulfilled in this adventure?

Digital Nomadism— wrestling with 1st world problems from remote work paradise.

This is when the trouble began.

My network had grown. My skills were numerous and I was finally enabled with enough support and self-respect, self-esteem to admit it.

A jack of many trades however, is seldom a master of any. Regardless, my baselines and a positive reputation were established.

It was time to go deeper.

Ideas, the seeds of potential, came from all directions- internal and from sources unexpected. I mounted whiteboards throughout my house — filled, Evernoted, and erased countless times — applying rigorous feasibility filters.

Replenished with the inputs of the day, the idea reserves were emptied each evening.

An escalating frenzy became the norm. My daily and weekly schedule revolved around the practice of imagination, ideation, investigation, and vetting.

Chasing peace and a balanced life

Each moment became a proving ground.

Could I find the opportunity, the next great idea, the angle, the unseen or the beautifully-visible possibility?

Like a film-maker lost in the options for plot, production, purpose — The art and beauty of film itself, the joy of the journey, was slipping away.

A great stress and oscillating sadness overtook me.

It was despair —

The Despair of Potential


Months later, I would stumble across the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. In the abstract, the poetic descriptions and imagery puts one at awe, allowing the viewer/reader to connect their own set of fears, struggles, and tragic realization of near-infinite opportunity.

The purpose of this article lies in detailing a semi-specific, reoccurring experience for the curious, evolving, insatiable, and confused/inspired subset of humans that are often labeled any one or multiple of the following:

  • entrepreneur
  • technologist
  • artist
  • free thinker
  • lost soul
  • unemployable
  • wanderer
  • wild
  • freelancer
  • aspiring [x — writer, musician, humanist]
If you have been labeled, or have embraced yourself, any of these titles — you dare to live at risk of suffering the Despair of Potential.

I salute you. I empathize with you.

And I offer two, simple suggestions:

  1. Embrace your wanderlust, your curiosity, your non-conformity.
  2. Balance it with the committed practicality and moral compass from principles formed by humble, human interaction.
The greener grasses of wanderlust.

Hello Potential.

Are you ready to hear our glorious roar?


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Sound like you or have a perspective to share? My plan is to write consistently, learn what’s valuable, and truly listen. So leave a comment, write me back.

I’m on standby too — travis@thea.io or @traviskellerman — if you want to chat.