Across the next six weeks we’ll be hearing more from Simon, alongside many more of the world’s brightest minds, on how we can all become our best self.
Stacy is obsessed with becoming her own best self. She eats right. She exercises on a regular basis. Almost all the things she reads are about self-improvement. Stacy is on a mission to fulfill her potential, potential she knows she has. But there’s a problem. Stacy spends too many days frustrated or unhappy. She often feels like for all the work she’s doing, she is making only small gains. Stacy is a close friend of mine so she often talks to me about how she feels. After many of our talks, I started to have a hunch as to what was wrong. The work to fulfill our potential has become an almost exclusively selfish pursuit. A pursuit that, by its very nature, puts us out of balance.
There is a paradox to being human. We are, at all times, both individuals and members of groups. On an almost daily basis we are faced with decisions that place those two realities in opposition. Do I do something for myself that others won’t like or even suffer or do I put others first and do something I won’t like or even have to suffer for?
There are those who say, we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. They often cite the example of the instruction aboard an aircraft – place your oxygen mask on first before helping others – to make their point. The problem is, that’s on an airplane in an emergency. That’s hardly a good metaphor for everyday life. More important, if all we do is prioritise our own needs over others, we would have no friends and no one would ever trust us.
Then there are those who say we must take care of others in order to take care of ourselves. The problem here is it comes at a steep cost. If we devote ourselves almost exclusively to seeing that those around us are taken care of before we take care of ourselves, we quickly find ourselves miserable and feeling unappreciated.
The truth is, we don’t get to choose which comes first. This is why it’s a paradox. There is no right answer. Every day we must struggle with the decisions that are both selfish and selfless. It’s not about one or the other, it’s about trying to find the delicate balance between the two. Tip too selfish, we suffer and so do our relationships. Tip too selfless and we suffer too.
The pursuit to work to our full potential, is for most, a pursuit that is out of balance. It is an almost exclusively selfish pursuit. The very question – how do I work to MY full potential – puts ourselves at the centre of the equation usually ignoring that we live in a social world. Too many people will spend lots of time and money attending seminars and the like that are billed to help you work to YOUR full potential. Too many of us will go from one seminar to the next, maybe with some positive feelings and new things to do that may last for a few weeks but, like a diet, too many of us simply slide back to our old habits until we try a new diet or sign up for another seminar.
Of course there is value in working to build our skills. Of course we must learn new things and practise the things we know so we can obtain mastery in something. Of course there is good in introspection and self-evaluation. However, there is a gaping hole that must be filled – the people around us.
I met up with Stacy one afternoon for a cup of tea and had an idea. She studies human potential so much, I asked her if she would coach me. We agreed to meet for an hour or so once a week at a time that was convenient to both of our schedules (I wanted to make sure the coaching didn’t add more stress). Our sessions were fantastic. I talked about things, she listened attentively, took notes, gave me fantastic feedback. Between sessions she would read about things or bring new ideas to the table that she thought would help me. Something magical happened from these sessions – Stacy started to feel better. Stacy starting doing better. Stacy started working to a fuller potential.
It is only when the pursuit to work to our full potential includes working to help others in our lives work to their potential do we actually find what we’re looking for.
This is very much the case for anyone in any sort of leadership position. We do not become great leaders, we do not fulfill our potential when we work to see ourselves grow or rise. It is when we devote ourselves to seeing those around us rise that we actually grow. And when the people we care about also work to see us grow, then they too will grow.
The pursuit to fulfill “my” potential must be replaced with the pursuit to “our” potential. As a family. As a team. As an organisation. As a community. The only true way for any of us to grow, to truly fulfill our full potential, is when we work to help others do the same. So yes, let’s keep reading all the books and attending all the seminars, except let’s bring someone, let’s do it with someone. Let’s read the books and attend the seminars not to help ourselves, but to help them. That’s potential fulfilled.