We have recently finished a book by Barbara Kingsolver entitled Flight Behavior. It’s a novel about a poor rural family and the phenomenon of having monarch butterflies migrate to their mountain; but, below the surface it is a book about potential – the potential of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, the potential of a scientist understanding how to bring scientific wisdom to the world, the potential of a smart young woman stepping into her gifts – and the importance of the right environment in achieving that potential.
After reading this book, our conversation went to how often potential is unrealized. If there is nothing in the environment to call it out, nurture it, honor it, grow it and sustain it, then the potential is lost and what remains is an unrealized path. Potential requires the right environment to be fulfilled and often that environment requires the help of someone else. There is a saying, you can’t be what you can’t see, and it is especially true when speaking of potential.
Consider these examples:
A teenaged boy in a Virginia mining town saw the Russian satellite Sputnik fly overhead in 1957 and decided that he wanted to build a rocket like it. The town laughed, his father was enraged with his arrogance, but his teacher gave him a physics book and the encouragement to pursue his interest in rocket science. He built a small rocket that won him a trip to a prominent science fair and a 4-year scholarship to college. Because he was able to see Sputnik and had the encouragement of his teacher who saw in him the potential to be something other than a coal miner, he went on to become a NASA Scientist and helped to launch the Apollo Space Missions.
We know a young woman, Ann, who was naturally gifted on the piano. She grew up playing around on the piano at church but there was no money for a piano or for lessons at home. When she was 15, she met the woman who would become her mentor and change the course of her life; a woman who was a talented pianist joined the church and heard Ann playing around on the piano. She immediately recognized the potential that lay within and offered to teach Ann how to play. Ann is now a professional pianist with a number of CD’s to her name. Once the conditions were right, the potential could manifest.
This week, take some time to think about those areas of your life where you have not reached your potential. We know that it would be wonderful if someone would notice that potential and nurture as in the examples above but you need not wait for someone else to open the door. Instead, consider whether you have the conditions needed to grow into that potential yourself. If not, think about one step you can take that will increase your ability to fulfill your potential. Start with that one step and then once you have done that, spend some time identifying the next step and the next. Remember, reaching your full potential is good for everyone around you.