We live in a culture of achievement and success. And we generally use only one measure of reaching it--financial. Financial success, however, doesn't necessarily correlate to potential. Potential is more far-reaching than financial success but often difficult to measure. How, then, do you know if you are maximizing your potential?
We certainly have the time to reach our potential, if we know what to look for. The average American will spend 90,000 hours in his or her lifetime working. That's assuming you retire at age 65--and for most of us, there is a strong likelihood that we will work beyond that. The bottom line, we spend a lot of time working, and what we do and how we do it is a defining characteristic of our lives.
If that's the case, then how do we insure that we are using our time wisely? We all possess capabilities that go beyond our expectations, but we can easily go days or years on cruise control. According to noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times.... The best moments usually occur if a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
The field of psychology states clearly that it's our nature to want to maximize our potential, so how do you know if you are? Here are five indications that you are stretching the edge of possibility with your skills and your potential.
1. You feel energized on a regular basis. You wake up excited about the work you are doing and you have a steady flow of energy when you think of the work you are doing. It may come in waves, but when you think about how you are spending your days, you couldn't imagine doing anything else.
2. You feel a little nervous and challenged in a good way. You are not quite sure how you are going to achieve your goals or the work you are doing. However, the challenge is fun. You know you can do it and you are highly motivated to do whatever it takes to figure it out.
3. You don't yearn for another job--or life. You don't spend your time daydreaming about other things you could be doing. You spend your time thinking about what you're doing because you want to. When you daydream, you think about different ways you could take what you're doing further. If someone offered you $20 million to give up the work you're doing forever and you'd say, "No, thanks," then you know you've already won the lottery with the joy you feel every day in your work.
4. You are having the type of impact that you desire. The impact of your work feeds your soul. You feel like you are making the change in your organization--or the world--that feels right. Others take notice of the work you're doing because the impact is substantial. It doesn't really matter how or where you are making a difference, the key thing is that it feels right to you.
5. You have your own definition of success--and you are meeting it. You don't compare yourself to others. Rather, you stay true to the values, goals, and vision that are your own. Society's goals or your friend's goals may be different from yours, but they don't distract you from your own path.
While it's not realistic to spend every waking moment at high-octane performance, it is realistic and possible to be tapping into your talents and purpose. When you experience the above, you know how exhilarating work and life can be. If you are not, then it may be a wake-up call to know that there is more you could be getting out of your professional life. In the end, we all have limitless potential, but if we aren't stretching that potential, you end up being bored and, well, wasting your true potential and impact in the world.