Discovering Your Potential: You Have More Than You Think

What You Can Do

It’s 11 PM, and the air is chilly. You’re on a boat floating near the remote Farallon Islands, 26 miles west of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. You are only wearing a basic swimsuit and a pair of goggles, have one foot on the railing of a boat, and are about to jump into the 60-degree ocean. Don’t worry, though: you won’t be alone in the water because there are jellyfish and great white sharks that grow to sixteen feet long and five feet wide in this area known as the Red Triangle.

Does this sound crazy to you?

Just wait—there’s more. 

Kim Chambers is a world-class marathon swimmer who is one of the few people to have ever completed the Ocean’s Seven, which is a swim across seven of the world’s most dangerous waters. A documentary entitled Kim Swims chronicles Chambers’s attempt to swim the 17-hour swim from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge, making her the first female and only the fourth person in history to have completed the journey.

Wow! I don’t know about you, but I tear up any time I see someone overcome all the odds and achieve his/her goals. I once supported a friend on a 50-mile run by riding my bike next to him to cheer him on, making sure he was eating his food, and changing his socks and shoes because he couldn’t bend over after 7 hours of running. On the long drive home, as he was passed out in the back of the van, I found myself crying as I contemplated the beauty of the human spirit.

Kurt Hahn, a pioneer in experiential education, said something that resonates with me:

“There is more in us than we know, if we could be made to see it; perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less."

His philosophy was that each of us has more courage, more strength, and more compassion than we could ever have fathomed.

I think deep down, we already believe this about ourselves but are just too afraid or too complacent to find the edge of our vast capabilities. What's so inspiring when we see people like quadruple amputee Kyle Maynard climbing Mount Kilimanjaro without prosthetics, or Kim Chambers swimming for 17-hours without stopping, or when your son struggles to sit up on his own for the first time, is how close they come to their full human potential in that moment.

In Tim Gallwey's book, The Inner Game of Work, Gallwey gives us a useful formula for thinking about performance and potential that is beautifully simple.

Performance = Potential - Interference  

  • Performance = our results

  • Potential = what we are capable of

  • Interference = the barriers and distractions

The beauty of this formula is that it simplifies what feels complex in the moment. It pulls our thinking out of the subjective (things happening to me) point of view and allows us to take a more objective (control what I can control) point of view. Thus, it’s a fast track to getting back up on the balcony again.

The people who inspire us the most are those who are able to reduce the amount of interference in their lives to the point that their light shines brighter than that of the rest of us. That raw feeling of energy that wells up inside us in their presence is our potential yearning to be set free.

If you’re like most people, then it’s easy to point to all the external factors that interfere with your performance. Most of my coaching clients start conversations this way. They point to all the outside factors preventing them from achieving their goals and potential. With time and dialogue, the most successful coaching clients begin to realize that the internal interference they experience far outweighs the external factors.

Some of the questions that I ask clients to help them discover their internal interference are easy to ask yourself:

What do you want?

Many times when we experience internal conflict, it's because we aren't clear about what we want. We can have or be anything we want, but we can't have or be everything we want. Getting more clear on what you want can reduce interference.

What are the facts?

Forcing ourselves to recognize the facts of a situation helps us recognize how much favor we’re giving ourselves. Oftentimes, separating the facts from our feelings allows us to get a better handle on reality and admit to ourselves that we just don't like reality.

 What story are you telling yourself?

We are always the hero of the story, so we can quickly rationalize our actions and our intentions and be harder on other people than we are on ourselves. Marcus Aurelius wrote himself a useful reminder in his journal:

"Be hard on yourself and tolerant of others."

 What do you own in the situation?

It takes two to tangle. What are you bringing the situation? What internal triggers are you allowing to prevent you from being at your best? What is your internal voice or past experience coming up with for you to allow you to play the victim?

What would have to be true for you to act despite the story you’re telling yourself?

Identifying and saying out loud what your barriers to action are can be an enlightening experience. Oftentimes, coaching clients will surprise themselves with how little stands in the way of achieving their goals.

Final thought

What is my greatest fear? Wasted potential. There is a quote in Braveheart when William Wallace challenges his men that sums up how I feel about human potential:

“Run, and you’ll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!”

My challenge to you is to do the deep work and figure out what internal interference is keeping you from your potential. In the words of my friend Dave, “Shine like a diamond today!”


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Jeff Shannon