How can we completely realise our potential?

Make Sacrifices Now or Regret It Later in Life

We are not young forever

Most of you reading this have one valuable quality: you are young and full of potential. But time passes and life goes on. We will not be young forever. I do not want to be 35 years old thinking to myself, “I’m just as I was clueless 15 years ago.”

A child is all potential — they could be anything, but they’re not anything. Likewise, we have to sacrifice our potential for actuality. We have to choose a path, a craft. We have to develop ourselves, become independent and capable of helping others and contributing to society, not merely appearing useful. We need to mature, take on the responsibility that being a true adult entails.

We must become capable men and women.

For that, though, we need to sacrifice.

The Problem

It’s easy to think that because we have our whole lives ahead of us, things will turn out great naturally. Yet, we often fail to put in the habits and processes that will actually get us there. We live in the abstract and forget the reality: anything worthwhile takes hard work, persistence, and a bit of luck.

We forget the most important fact of all:

You get to pick your sacrifice, not whether you have to sacrifice or not. The moment to choose will come whether you like it or not and you do not want to be 40 years old when it wallops you and takes you unaware: “What have I been doing with my life?”

Sacrifice is inevitable.

This is compounded by a culture in which there is no immediate penalty for remaining passive, immature, careless and irresponsible. There is no immediate penalty for putting off maturity. Many of us remain in the negotiating process, fearful of committing to a certain path and the hard work and sacrifice that comes with it. However, in putting the decision off, in putting off maturity, the penalty just accrues. When we are 25, it’s okay to be clueless because we’re young and have potential. It’s no problem. Fast forward 10 years and people aren’t so thrilled anymore. People will ask, “What have you been doing for the past ten years?” You become an old infant.

Most of all, myself included, the biggest fear we face is often that of “putting all of our eggs in one basket.” What if I commit fully and it doesn’t work out? What if I chose this instead of that? The truth is, committing to one path only constricts us for a short while. There is a narrow training period, where you are restricted, but once you get through that, through choosing your sacrifice, you come out with new possibilities at the other end, regardless of whether you succeed or not. You come out more developed and with greater experience.

Remember that the opposite of putting all your eggs in one basket, in committing, is remaining in the negotiating process, constantly considering the opportunity cost of choosing a certain pathway, wanting to get the best path possible without ever actually trying any paths out. The opposite of committing is the realisation after all that pondering that you can’t think of what you’ve done in the past 10 years. We’ve got to sacrifice our potential for actuality.

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we have only one” — Confucius

This is the realisation that you can’t rely on potential anymore — now is the moment where you’ve got to choose. One of the biggest regrets of older people is wishing they experimented more when they were younger — if they failed it was okay because they still had so much potential.

The same is not true when you’re 60 years old with weak health. If you fail to create that business when you are young, it’s okay. You still have time on your hands and you don’t have ill health to worry about, old age, family and kids to support, commitments and obligations. When you are older, you do not have that luxury.

You must make the most of it now, hence the quote: “fail early fail often fail forward.” Make mistakes now, put in the work now, or you will regret it.

My story:

Abraham Maslow said that to achieve self-realisation, to full excel and realise our potential, we need to meet our basic needs first: survival, safety, love, and self-esteem.

I spent the majority of my teenage years (it’s weird that I can say that — I just turned 20) in the negotiating stage. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I believe that what kept me inside my head, with all of these ambitions and ideas of who I could be but no results and achievements, was the fact that I had little self-esteem. I was not confident. I had no plan.

This changed at the start of A-Levels and was compounded by Covid-19, whereby I had even more time to repeatedly ask myself, “What do I want? What do I want to do?” It was in this time that I really was able to step outside of my comfort zone, to set myself challenges and prove to myself that I was worth it, though that was not the aim of course — it was a mixture of boredom and wanting to be productive. When I received appreciation for such endeavours, it reinforced my new identity and heightened my confidence and self-esteem.

This is important to keep in mind: to fully excel, we must meet our basic needs first. Do not, however, let this stop you from acting now. The challenges I did were not easy — I did one challenge a day for a week: 1,000 pushups in a day, writing a short story… Nobody is fully confident or has perfect self-esteem. Do not let this become an excuse for achieving self-actualisation.

The Solution

As long as you are still living and reading this, you still have potential. You still have time to make a difference. That means four things:

  • Find your path.
    What kind of person would you like to be? What would you like to do? What do you truly want? Expose yourself to different things. Develop yourself and learn along the way, narrowing your path each time. What is your ideal job? What do you need to do to get there? Without attempting to answer these questions, how can you hope to start?
  • Make your sacrifice.
    Make it early. That means now. Choose your path or regret it. We face two pains in life, two sources of suffering: the suffering of discipline and the suffering of regret. The difference is that the suffering of discipline weighs ounces,
  • Fully commit.
    Persist. Endure. It is better to have your eggs in one basket than in many (which is none at all).
  • Meet your needs.
    It is pointless if we have not met our basic needs first: survival, safety, love, and self esteem. Nevertheless, everything is interlinked and in pursuing something you may find your most basic needs satisfied. Thus, expose yourself to new scenarios, learn every day, improve and develop yourself.

Warning

“Most people are deeply scripted in… the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everyone else.” — Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

However, we must be careful with the language of sacrifice. We must avoid focusing on what we have lost, on what we do not have, on limitations due to the sacrifice. Essentially, we must avoid entering the Scarcity mindset, the idea that in doing one thing, for example advancing our career, we are “sacrificing” another thing, for example bringing up our family. This brings negative connotations that are limiting and disempowering. They demotivate us, make us miserable, and lead us to be paralysed by inaction. In short, they do not serve us.

Instead, we should reframe this “sacrifice” as a choice. This is the Abundance mindset. Instead of considering our “sacrifice” against the potentially infinite number of things we could have done and seeing what’s missing and the limitations, we see opportunities. Instead of “sacrifice”, we see choices and priorities. Instead of FOMO, we have peace of mind. We can liken the Abundance versus Scarcity mindset to optimism versus pessimism, the glass half full versus the glass half empty.

In life, you can follow one of two mindsets:

  1. Scarcity mindset.
    This pandemic has ruined my life — there’s no point of starting anything new now or continuing.
    I was framed and sentenced to life in prison. Now I have nothing and there is utterly no point existing.
  2. Abundance mindset.
    This pandemic has changed our lives. I will use this time to develop my relationships with my family and to learn more about myself.
    This is the new baseline to work from. How can I make the best use of this time in prison? I will read and write to teach others not to follow my mistakes in life.

Reframing your life through this mindset creates meaning. It empowers you. In focusing on what has been taken away, perhaps because of the pandemic, for example, you create a meaning that disempowers you. I did not see it as “sacrifice” during the pandemic, because the alternative was utter boredom. Hence, the abundance mindset helps you to tackle obstacles, to see unavoidable things in a more positive and helpful way. Such is the power of our beliefs, our interpretation of events, to alter the reality we experience.

“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or can literally save their lives” — Tony Robbins

We must stop waiting for things to happen, waiting for our calling to come to us. We must be proactive and make choices, and become who we want to be. We must realise our potential by limiting our potential, by making so-called sacrifices. We must answer the difficult questions of “What do I want?” and “Who do I want to be?” and take actions now towards those answers. Suffering will either come with the hard work and discipline of one’s life or with regret — it comes either way. Choose your sacrifice before it’s chosen for you.

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Ever Curious

Ever Curious

I try to use science, psychology and philosophy to create realistic and practical methods of living better lives. We don’t need to start from zero.