Not long ago, one of my clients showed me her written performance evaluation and pointed to the line her manager had written: “You aren’t living up to your potential. By now, you should have…” Following was a list of all the things my client could have done if she had applied herself in the same way her obsessive-compulsive, workaholic manager had done.
She launched into a tirade.
“Who the hell is she to decide what my potential is or is not? I don’t want to be like her. She is the most unhappy person I know.”
I agreed with my client. I have always hated the word “potential,” because it is usually lobbed by one person judging the progress of another against standards of achievement that the judger values. To some extent, it is the job of a good teacher or manager to assess potential and help his or her people achieve it. But, human potential is far more complicated than any set of quantifiable tasks, levels or accomplishments can allow. Human potential takes into account things like purpose, mission and individual happiness. My client was doing well in her position as a mid-level manager, but hadn’t pushed herself into the higher echelons of management because she wanted time for her family and herself.
Is that such a crime? Is it so wrong to make decisions about what you want in life based on the kind of life you want? No! Is a mistake to make a conscious decision to live your own way, rather than the way others would live for you? No! Is it a crime to set your own standards, based on the big picture priorities that matter to you? Absolutely not.
Too many of us live small because we lack the courage to dream big and go for broke. That said, there is nothing wrong with making a conscious decision to live a meaningful life that does not tap what others see as your full career potential — if that track is not important to you. You should live the life you want to live.
We all get on treadmills where we work hard and try to meet the expectations of others. Some people sacrifice their souls to keep moving on those treadmills, even though they are not fulfilled or happy with what they are doing. They seek the paycheck, recognition and security that comes from doing what they are told to do – even if it offers them no meaning. It’s a sad decision that many of those life travelers don’t even realize that they are making. They just move along, as expected. As you grow, you will hopefully learn to choose your own treadmills and spend your time doing work in a way that will bring joy to your life. That means you don’t have to apologize for not fast-tracking your career if that kind of approach doesn’t work for your heart or soul.
Be mindful of your priorities and honor your time on this earth in a way that makes you happy. That’s all that matters. Work is an opportunity to achieve, but it doesn’t have to define you as a human being. That’s your real job. To live on your own terms.