When I was in seventh grade, I was blessed with one of my all time favourite teachers, Mr. V. I would never have been able to put this in words at that time, but I always felt as though he was happy to be a teacher and happy to be in class with us.
Each day before lunch, Mr. V would read aloud to us. That year, we were introduced to the likes of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and The Chrysalids. I recall that it was my most cherished time of the day.
I don’t know how he did it ~ especially with a straight face ~ but he also taught us to play the recorder. One of our projects was to write a song and perform it in front of the class. My worst nightmare! I never wanted to do anything in front of anybody at that point in my life so I was petrified. Of course, I wasn’t alone and Mr. V being so kind-hearted offered us an option. He would play our song with us and we could go into the cloakroom to do it.
Fifteen of the most uncomfortable seconds of my life as a 13 year old. I survived.
Misinterpreting Our Potential
Now, I have to say, I was an ace student ~ school was a top priority for me and it came quite naturally. I didn’t need to be pushed to do well and it didn’t take a great deal of effort for me. I was used to getting straight A report cards ~ and usually glowing comments as well.
That year’s report cards were no different with one little exception. I had straight A’s and great comments and then there was this statement:
Elizabeth does not fulfill her full potential.
I was flabbergasted! What more potential could there be? There was nowhere else to go beyond an A. I had no idea what to do to fulfill my potential and for a little while I felt angry with Mr. V ~ angry and hurt. In my young adolescent mind this could only mean one thing ~ Mr. V didn’t like me.
Turns out that of all the gifts Mr. V shared during that year, that statement has been the most powerful and lasting of them all.
Over the years, the comment would sneak up and haunt me. I have come up with many interpretations of what this has meant for me in the bigger picture:
Things came easily for me academically, so I never learned to work hard enough to be able to exceed expectations.
I had made the mistake of equating my success with external validation such as grades or other’s admiration.
I didn’t know how to push myself enough in order to really go for it.
Fulfilling my potential must involve more ‘doing.’ If I just do enough, I will succeed.
Going Deep or Skimming the Surface ~ The Choice is Yours
About a week ago, this memory was triggered again. This time, I asked myself if I could identify times in my life when I felt I was truly fulfilling my potential ~ like really giving something my all.
Each little vision that popped into my mind was evaluated. Did I fulfill my potential in this job or that position? I have to say that most of what arose for me had to do with my vocation as a Service Provider.
Then, images of other aspects of my life began to come into view. Had I fulfilled my capacity to love and care for another? Had I lived up to my potential when it came to caring for myself?
One common factor became apparent. With the belief that to do more would lead to the fulfillment of my potential, I had become driven over the years. But my efforts were lopsided. Everything was about action in the external world ~ making something happen ~ always on the lookout for the evidence of my efforts.
On so many occasions, I had left my heart and soul out of the equation. I did not bring the full capacity of my being ~ my spirit ~ to what I was involved in. In my habit to take on too much, I would often spread myself so thin that the only way I could survive would be too protect my heart and bob along the surface.
In order to do more, I could only go so deep with anything. And you know that when you have your fingers in too many pots, you might be able to keep things going ~ maintain and sustain ~ until that day when there is one little glitch in the system and it all goes to hell. I got very good at cutting corners and picking the low hanging fruit and I called it efficiency. And it served its purpose.
Of course, this has altered over these last few years and I am much more focused on how I experience my life and the energy I bring to anything I am doing as opposed to simply doing it so I can check it off a list.
It took a nose dive into emptiness to help me realize that slowing down and pushing less would allow me to access my deepest potential and surrender right into the rich experience of being present in my life in ways that allowed me to give all I had to what was showing up for me.
Let Yourself Be Consumed
Focus, I am realizing now, is an essential ingredient in mining our full potential in any given undertaking. We don’t have to do it all ~ at least not all at the same time.
And we never ever have to give ourselves over fully to anything that does not feel heart committed.
Perhaps, it takes a lifetime to fulfill our full potential. There are a lot of distractions along the way. A whole bunch of dangling carrots to entice us.
Sometimes, things are good enough.
Other times, what hooks our attention and lights our fire is so big that it requires us to step into the heart of the flame and let ourselves be consumed.
Sometimes, we are called to set ourselves on fire.
Let’s get started!
Where are you becoming the flame?