OWN YOUR POTENTIAL
The biggest lie: You can be anything you want to be
Realizing or owning your potential is one of the great responsibilities in life.
By Dr. William T. Hold, CIC, CPCU, CLU
How often have we heard or been told, “You can be anything that you want to be?” It’s simply not true. Regardless of how much I want to be a nuclear physicist, brain surgeon, astronaut, or famous sculptor, it’s not going to happen. Much in the same fashion, I cannot and will not be the next Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, or any other great athlete. The crucible of life experience is clear: We cannot be anything we want to be.
However, the great and saving truth is we all have potential. The challenge is to fully develop and realize that potential. In short, you need to own your potential.
Realizing or owning your potential is one of the great responsibilities in life. Each of us has a potential with multiple dimensions and elements—both God given and developed through factors that include the support of others, self-discipline, determination, realized opportunities, good fortune, and continued lifelong learning.
The excitement, the adventure, and the mystery of owning your potential is that your potential can exceed the expectations of your family, friends, co-workers, teachers/professors, critics, and even yourself. We need to continually ask ourselves questions that include, what is my potential, how far away am I from reaching it, and what do I need to be doing to truly own it?
All the above sounds good, makes sense, and is in some ways motivational. What stands in the way of realizing our potential? Today, many people feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or cautious about how to present themselves in a culture that’s far different from that of just a few years ago. Many are confused and/or frustrated with current social and political issues and trends.
In addition, people tend to be more easily offended than before and are ready to angrily accuse others—in person and through social media—of ulterior or bad motives and feelings. This leads people to feel uncomfortable and more uncertain. They have become cautious, angry and, in some instances, simply afraid. They find it harder to make big decisions, and the consequences of choices become evident quickly, often followed with unrelenting criticism.
Unfortunately, as individuals we cannot control the culture. But we can control our responses to it. The key to owning your potential is concentrating on the issues you can affect or control and stop worrying about those you can’t control or really do anything about. You can’t allow yourself to bounce from one issue to another and be distracted.
And you cannot allow yourself to go in circles like the legendary Oozlum bird. Folk tales have the mythical creature living many decades ago in England (or Australia, depending on who tells the story) before becoming extinct. The reason for its demise was its habit of too often flying in increasingly tighter circles until it flew up its own backside and disappeared.
The important question now becomes what can you or I control? We can to a significant extent control the following:
Our attitude. No one is asking that you be the personification of Pollyanna. However, maintaining a positive attitude is important. Believe in yourself, let go of the worry, and keep the positive elements of your life in the front of your mind.
How hard we work. One of the descriptions now being used to describe people in today’s workplace is the “silent quitter.” These employees are not working to make a positive difference, nor are they interested in working smarter. They are there to avoid failure, endure the day, and survive. They never ask what more they can learn or whether they made any contribution to success—theirs or their organization’s.
There is almost universal admiration for diligence and working hard. However, it is important to keep in mind that, ultimately, we will be judged by the results of our work not just the work itself. We need to work and be successful with purpose, always remembering that success is not a continuum.
Our character. We can control our character in terms of integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior. It has been frequently stated that your character is defined by what you do when no one is watching and not when you are in front of an audience or being questioned by your client’s attorney in a court room or in a state insurance commissioner’s hearing office.
People may ask you to take or omit an action that you know is not correct and they promise you they will never tell another soul. The difficult issue becomes when will you do this again and what will be the next reason for doing it? There is some validity to the phrase, “If you do it any time you will do it all the time.”
Our knowledge. What a great feeling it is to understand what you are doing and understanding the subject, the problem at hand, and the available solution(s). This is when we are at our best, the most confident, and able to provide the greatest benefit to our families, clients, and co-workers.
Compare this with situations where you turn down or shy away from good opportunities because you are afraid you don’t have the needed knowledge. How often do we have to learn that, in very short periods of time, ignorance will make cowards and servants of us all?
A great proportion of individuals in the insurance industry came to the business by chance but have built careers by choice. Given the complex nature of the industry and the impact it has on individuals and businesses, an insurance career must have as its foundation a commitment to learning and providing practical real-life solutions to those we serve.
As we seek and involve ourselves in learning opportunities the key word in our search is “practical.” Practical or practice-oriented education fuses or brings together past learning experiences with a solid vision of the future. Practical is what separates a class that is valuable from a class that is nothing more than a mutual exchange of ignorance between the teacher and the students.
Let us not forget that the more you learn the greater your ability will be to envision and believe in your potential. Own your potential and turn your want-to-do’s into your will-do’s.
William T. “Doc” Hold, Ph.D., CIC, CPCU, CLU, is executive chairman of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, which he co-founded in 1969 as The Society of CIC. Under his leadership, The National Alliance has grown to become one of the most prestigious insurance education organizations in the world. In this column, Doc shares his personal insights and opinions, which are not necessarily those of The National Alliance or its board members.