Realizing Your Potential

About a week ago, I had a long conversation with a friend. He is pretty successful in his job—makes a fair salary and garners respect in his place of employment (a university). He and his family have a nice home and lots of good friends. During our conversation, we began to talk about the impact that we have on the world, or at least our small part of it. Outside of raising a child, he wasn’t sure what kind of impact he was having and, in fact, had not thought about it in the past. Admittedly, most of his life had been spent having a good time—”partying.”

When I asked him about his long-term goals, he didn’t have any. When I probed him about going to graduate school, he responded that he had thought about it but just never did. Although my friend is nearly a half a century old and graduated at the top of his college class, he had stopped his intellectual discovery with college. He hasn’t traveled, hasn’t explored, and hasn’t sought more education. Instead, he decided to enjoy the material pleasures of life.

My friend recently came to the realization that he is not fulfilled by life as it is. He realized that his life doesn’t have a larger purpose beyond himself. He also decided that he wanted to change that.

I often think about my/our larger purpose in life. Every morning I wake up with so much energy and an excitement to pursue my writing and research. I look forward to working with my students and young people around the country—learning from them and teaching them. I have had a fire in my belly for years. Often times people will ask me why I work so hard and say things like “Isn’t it time to take a break?” or “Maybe you should slow down.” (Note: I take vacations—good ones!) What these folks don’t realize is that I found that larger purpose and it is now the fabric of my life. It’s not work, and it’s not a burden. When you find a passion—be it leading a project, writing, research, educating your child, or committing yourself to an issue—you realize that joy and satisfaction don’t come from the purchase of material things but from the impact that you can have and the lives that you can enhance and change and empower.

My friend had that realization as he worked with a group of young people. I watched him as he talked with them. I could see the realization on his face. I am glad that he isn’t giving up—thinking it’s too late to have a substantial impact on society. Too many people give up and settle for just a fraction of what they can be, failing to realize their potential. I may be accused of just being an optimist, even a Pollyanna. That’s okay. I’ll take that over jaded and searching for some method of fulfillment any day.

If you need some motivation, let me know. I’m happy to provide it. Although I was born with that fire in my belly, it was my mentor and educator Asa Hilliard who cultivated a commitment to a larger purpose in me. I am happy to do the same for others.

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