This isn’t going to be an article that propels you to search deeper or achieve more. Instead, I am going to ask you to walk a path with me, to challenge your mindset, as well as your belief system. Chances are that you, dear reader, are past the school or tertiary education phase. This is an important qualifier. This means that you need to get used to measuring your self-growth on a different set of measurables than those you grew accustomed to during your formative years. 

Many of us don’t realize that we tend to measure ourselves on predetermined achievables and goals set by others: a kind of one-size-fits-all goal. These goals may have been set by teachers, parents, family members, or authority figures. We rarely stop to question whether those expectations and goals are still appropriate for us in the present moment. We get trapped in a loop of unfulfilled expectations that may not be applicable anymore. For example, do you really have to be top of the class? Do you really have to win that race? Is it really going to make you happy to fulfil someone else’s perceived destiny for you? 

Predetermined and inflexible goals towards which you may strive, inadvertently set as a blueprint for yourself, could set you up for a lifetime of unhappiness or underachievement. Some people feel that they just cannot get ahead, cannot achieve success in life, and they suffer from poor self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy because they never “arrive.” They never seem to get to that pinnacle, and all because they are clinging to invalid goals. 

Find your own goals

How? Monitor what makes you happy, what you are good at. See if doing these things contributes to your overall fulfilment. These things could also have a positive effect on others around you.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your so-called “small contributions.” Are you good at organizing? Can you be relied upon? Are you spontaneous, or a rainmaker? Are you detail oriented, or can you focus on the big picture? Are you playful or responsible? 

These are just a few traits that, unbeknown to you, can influence and change you or others. Your unique qualities may seem insignificant to you, but could be highly valued by others. You haven’t given these qualities any credence or value because you are focused on pursuing archetypal and outdated goals set at a different phase in your life. 

What does that mean? 

It means that once you have paid your school fees of being measured by external achievements, i.e. passing tests or obtaining the approval of authority figures, then it’s time for you to move into the next phase of adulthood: moving beyond being externally measured and validated. 

Deciding on whether you have achieved your potential is actually entirely up to you. It’s distressing and highly pressurized to measure your potential and growth based on the goals and aspirations of others around you. It’s even more detrimental to base the measure of your potential on the approval of others because you will always feel you are falling short somehow. In addition to this, approval from others is often short-lived. It’s like retail therapy: exciting and gratifying in the moment, but the “newness” wears off and you will find yourself right back in the same unhappy place.

How to identify your potential

Start by asking yourself the following:

What have I overcome? 

What have been my challenges? 

How have I adapted to these challenges? 

What can I now identify about myself that are strengths?

Summarise these strengths in one or two words. Therein lie the clues to discovering yourself as an adult and what assets you have that are your potential.

Finding your potential in adulthood is a bit like the story of Hansel and Gretel. They left a trail of pebbles and that’s how they found their way home! The questions above will lead you to your inner self and provide you with clues and insights into your strength. 

Here is an example of how you can answer the questions

What have I overcome?

Poverty, poor education, bad parenting, divorce

What have been my challenges?

Lack of resources, poor role models, sadness

How have I adapted to these challenges? 

By working hard, by identifying positive role models in life, by choosing to be a better parent, spouse

What can I now identify about myself that are strengths?

I am resourceful, I try to improve my life and well-being

Summarise these strengths in one or two words.

I’m strong

Am I achieving my potential?


Are there other areas in which I could improve my potential?

Yes, I would like to be a better parent, colleague, spouse

Potential is not finite, there are always ways of improving and expanding upon it. Just don’t start off from a negative baseline. See and acknowledge what you have achieved thus far, in all areas of your life, and work with the skills that you have identified. You will see that there are always areas that could do with more attention than others. Remember that the capacity to change these are within you and not in the hands of ghosts from your past.