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How to fulfill your potential

10 steps to help you move in the right direction

"Clarity of mind is a prerequisite to fulfilling your potential"

Despite the plethora of information available today, we often struggle to find what we’re looking for. There is so much out there on personal development, self-help, becoming a better leader, increasing your chances of being successful etc., but if I’m looking for advice, I want it to be condensed and simplified. I want tips that are easy to digest; information that I can apply instantaneously. I want to use what I’m reading, in a practical manner, instead of having to read and reread only to find myself lost in all the information. 

Personal fulfillment is a vast topic, and its definition is entirely subjective. To some, personal fulfillment is professional success. To others it’s starting a family. Whatever the case may be, and despite the fact that each of these is different, you will find below, 10 concrete steps which will enable you to fulfill your potential, one step at a time.

1. Discipline yourself: There’s a reason this is number one on this list. You want to know why? Simply because it’s the most important characteristic you can develop. Everything starts and ends with discipline. If fulfilling your potential is a priority, discipline yourself. If you have a goal, and you have a set amount of objectives to achieve, stick to these objectives and do whatever it takes to stay on course. Discipline is essentially an exercise to keep your wants and ‘needs’ in check. You will have most likely noticed a conversation between your ego (the voice in your head) and yourself. Discipline is making sure you are the one who sets the tone and not your ego. By controlling your ego’s wants, fears, ideas and suggestions you end up prevailing. If you struggle to wake up, make sure to get up when your alarm rings. If you snooze, you’ve lost the first battle of the day, and while this may seem like a very basic example, each little situation accumulates and has a major impact on your day. Start simple and every little win will bring you closer to where you want to be.

2. Step out of your comfort zone: Sounds like a cliché, but I cannot emphasize this enough. Make big changes, do things that scare you, start a job which has nothing to do with your studies, accept opportunities that require you to pack up and leave your home in just a couple of days. Say yes to things that make you uncomfortable (within reason, of course), and embrace the unknown. Our rationale as humans is to assess the opportunity cost of each option, and while this is because we are intrinsically protecting ourselves from bad decisions, you sometimes have to take a leap of faith. When you’re keen to fulfil your potential, you first have to delineate what this potential entails. You have to have an idea of what it is you want to achieve, and only by experiencing can you slowly start to define your purpose. Chances are, you’ll learn more by stepping out of your comfort zone. The odds will always be in your favour because fortune does favour the bold, and if for some reason things don’t go as you would have wanted them to, you will have grown from the experience and you will be ready to take on the next opportunity. It’s a win-win.

3. Have a plan: No, I don’t suggest you come up with a 5 or 10 year plan. I don’t believe in either. I do believe however that you can loosely plan your steps to make sure you have a direction. Doing things just for the sake of doing them is not what I mean when I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Having some kind of plan, even a loosely defined one can make a massive difference. Why is it that you’re doing a, b and c? Is there a bigger picture? Are you moving towards a specific goal? Is there a city you want to end up in? Is there a role six months down the line you want to apply for? Are there cities you want to travel to? Are you saving up for something? Your plan isn’t set in stone. You can make changes as you go along. You’ll notice, over time that your core plan will most likely remain very similar. If it doesn’t, even better. More flexibility leads to more opportunities.

4. Do things alone: Self-management starts with doing things alone. You will learn a lot about yourself, including why you think and act in certain ways, what motivates you, what you like and dislike. Humans have a natural tendency to socialize and while this is important, it’s equally important to spend time doing things alone. As you get to know yourself, you will understand your strengths and weaknesses which will enable you to improve yourself. While there is a stigma around people who eat alone or visit exhibitions alone, I take pride in immersing myself. After a few times, it’ll start to feel completely normal and it will teach you lessons you won’t learn in a group. Clarity of mind is a prerequisite to fulfilling your potential. That clarity comes from the silence within you. When you embrace your own company and you learn to do things alone, you’ll naturally tune in to this internal silence. The kind of conversations you have with yourself have a direct effect on the resilience you build. Everything starts with you. Go ahead, enjoy your lunch alone and smile while you are it because you have the strength to try something different.

5. Embrace failure: You have to be willing to lose daily so that you can win in the long run. A lot of people cannot come to terms with this idea because it seems counter intuitive. Be patient, learn to endure circumstances which may be far from favorable, and at the same time remain resilient. If things aren’t the way you want them to be, keep making the effort to learn and to make the most of the situations you face. As you develop this kind of mind-set you’ll become comfortable, in the present, no matter what the present is like. By making the most of an unfavorable situation you ready yourself for the opportunities that will put you in a position to create the favorable circumstances. You have to lose, to understand the value of winning. You have to fail, to understand the true value of success. You have to endure and sacrifice, to comprehend what it’s like to overcome obstacles and to achieve your goals.

6. Build a small support network: The key word here is ‘small’. All you need is a couple of people who know you inside out, who know your weaknesses, strengths, who understand your potential and who celebrate your every success with you. People you can call at any time of the day, who will be there for you when the going gets tough, because it will most likely get very tough. Going solo will rarely cut it. Most people who have made a difference and who have reached their potential have had a mentor, a friend, or a family member to turn to. You don’t need to do everything alone. On the other hand, it’s unrealistic to maintain a very large support network because that will require a lot of time and effort. If you can, then there’s no harm. This comes down to personal preference and what you feel you need the most. There is no right or wrong, as long as you are aware of the importance of having at least a couple of people around you during your journey.

7. Manage your ego: If disciplining yourself is the most important point in this list, managing your ego comes very close to it and both concepts are intrinsically linked. How well you do in your life is directly correlated to how good you feel about the life you live, and how good you feel is directly correlated to how well you manage your ego. In short, your ego is the voice in your head; the ‘other’ side to you, which is conditioned by your past and by the circumstances you experience. Managing your ego comes down to fully understanding why you think and act in certain ways and requires you to suppress your need to be right and to be better. You can only do this by detaching yourself from the negative feelings we associate with being wrong and not being as good as the person next to you. Why should you feel bad about being wrong? Can you not accept the fact that you’re wrong, graciously admit it and learn from it? Why does it feel bad to not be as good? Because your ego is in competition with everything around it. Does that seem conducive to bettering yourself as a person? Surely not.

8. Stay on your path: Not all paths are created equal. With the constant stream of information available to us, it is so so difficult to stay focused on our own paths. We often compare ourselves to people we know and to random people we’ve never even seen or met before. The easiest way to lose hope, and to lose focus, is to compare yourself to others. You will always come across people that are more successful than you are – no matter how successful you become. There will always be people out there who have something you do not. Accept it, embrace it and make the most of the people you meet by learning from them. Switch your envy for humility and compassion. Celebrate other peoples’ victories because when it’s your turn, you’ll want others to celebrate with you. Stop trying to justify why others are better than you or even, why some people are not as good as you. This is totally subjective and driven by your ego. Wish other people success and prosperity and keep your energy focused on your own path. A successful person who has no empathy or compassion is partially successful. A successful person that nobody likes working with is also only partially successful. There is always more than just having a great job and a great salary.

9. Lose the feeling of entitlement: You’re not entitled to anything. Full-stop. Everything you want, is there for the taking, but it requires hard work, perseverance, belief, resilience, patience, humility, compassion, empathy and focus. This day and age, a lot of people have developed a feeling of entitlement that our parents and grandparents had never seen. Social media, new norms and the emergence of generation x have contributed to a growing sense of entitlement. You’re not entitled to a good life, you’re not entitled to being successful and you’re not entitled to be better than the person next to you. You may think you are, but the stark reality is that you’re not. Everything you want (and I don’t suggest that being better than the person next to you should even be a goal), is out there for the taking, but are you willing to do what it takes?

10. Take care of your time: One thing you will never get back is your time. Invest it wisely, take extra good care of it and make a conscious effort to track how you spend it. All the other points link back to time. Be very disciplined with how you use up your time, and be willing to sacrifice things you’d like to do simply because you have to allocate your time elsewhere. If you’re pursuing your passion this should be easy because you will intrinsically spend your time doing the things you love. For some people, including myself, who are still trying to identify their true passion, taking good care of their time will help them find the things they love doing the most.  

Stay true to your values, cherish your past, embrace the present and look forward to the future.  

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- MARCUS AURELIUS

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