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How to Unlock Your Innate Potential

Updated on August 14, 2013

Most of us have potential that remains untapped. There are many reasons that we may not necessarily use or even realize some of the gifts or strengths that we have, among them being simple distraction by everyday life. Also, it is a relatively minority cultural phenomenon to think of things like "self-actualization" and "realizing your autonomy" and other so-called "hippie sounding" approaches to life philosophy. There are those who do not think it worth the time to sit and think and analyze.

And there are those who do see the value in the thinking. I do. But, I also have a confession. For me, thinking is a respite. It's that place on the fence where I'm still not committed to one plan of action, one decision or another. I think that this may be a rather common tendency, although most of us have learned how to negotiate an appropriate balance between thinking and acting.

I don't think that those who sit, stuck on that fence, remain thus out of ignorance. If my own psyche is any indication, the operative force keeping one from acting, doing, and thus realizing his full potential, is fear.

The only way to address that fear, to do anything with it but yield to its ugly, pompous sneer, is through guts. Now hold on! If you're already tempted by the urge to stop reading, as I was to stop writing, under the mistaken notion that you must not be the person to whom this could apply, then please think again. That's the fear talking. I think it's time that fear be told to shut up awhile.

Guts is not this struttin', chest-thumping, head-cocking bravado that is the domain of too many locker rooms, board rooms, squad rooms, bedrooms - even classrooms, and the simian philosophy that can thrive within. Guts is not the "no pain, no gain" dinosaur that is about as relevant today as it was ever useful. Further, guts is not the province of the most macho, the strongest, the most patriotic, the roughest, the toughest, the biggest, nor even the bravest or most aggressive.

Guts is having just that one ounce of strength and will enough to stop, take a breath, and dare to doubt the liar or bully (whether he is your nemesis in any of the aforementioned settings, or whether he is the self-doubt WITHIN THE CONFINES OF YOUR OWN COGNITION) who would try and have you believe that you are not equipped to act on your own goals and dreams to make them happen!

On reflecting about my gutsiest moments, and frankly, these are those same moments in my life of which I am most proud, the ones that allow me to give the truth its due and absolute priority, the ones that give me the strength to get up just one more day everyday they are the ones where the outcome of my actions or inaction, was bigger than my fear.

Now, this particular juxtaposition can occur for a number of reasons. One is that being painted in a corner scenario where it truly is do or die. If you don't take SOME course of action, you're done or some other disaster that could have been avoided or prevented will play out and the responsibility will either fall on you, or appear as though it should.

It takes some guts to put yourself out there to be judged and scrutinized. One of my biggest fears, even now, is being a beginner. I hate the new and the unfamiliar. So many questions. So many doubts. So many, many ways to make a mistake, to be clumsy or foolish or inept, to be imperfect!

For some special people, novelty is not this awful chasm of self-doubt and fear. For some, it is a thrill and a rush and a chance to show their stuff. These folks are the ones for whom "guts" doesn't really apply, at least not in everyday life. There is a confidence there that is borne out of experience and a past marked either by achievement or freakish luck. And in no way do I hold that against most of them. I would not want to find myself in an emergency room or under the knife if the one in charge is sheepish, metaphorically pale, and looks like he is about to pee himself.

You do sometimes want that aggressive and sure-footed self-assuredness, because that is reassuring to YOU. Of course, you want that person to base his or her confidence on COMPETENCE ideally, s/he should not even have to call upon guts to get the job done, as that would imply a crisis. It would imply some doubt as to the outcome. As a patient, you do NOT want that at least, you do not at all want to SEE it!

Oh, yes, some have paid their dues to have found that confidence, and really, that is the only way it comes. To be confident without the evidence to back it up is called arrogance. And unless such a person should be blessed with the happy coincidence of arrogance meeting fortuitous and precocious skill, or just damned luck, that "confidence" will burst, and it will take true guts to get up and try again.

Guts and a little humility. They do sometimes go hand in hand.


It's the 4th quarter in the 7th game of the NBA finals. Your team is behind 97 to 98, and there are 7 seconds left to play. The ball is in your hands and you're at half court. 6 seconds. Every path to an open man is blocked, and they're all covered anyway. 5 seconds. Your heart is slamming through your chest and you could faint under the pressure. 4 seconds. Somebody, open up! Anybody! The guy covering you is sneering, daring you to jump, fake, or dribble. 3 seconds. There is no pass available. It is on YOU. 2 seconds. You just wanna die! But instead you make the only choice that is NOT yours at all to make, and gaze up as you fake left. 1 second. The defender's sneer has faded into a gasp as you bounce, pivot right, and let the ball go.

And it's . . .

Irrelevant! You had no choice BUT to take action. The failure would have been in NOT taking the shot. You HAD to take your shot! You HAD to go for it. Yes, the urgency of the situation made the decision unavoidable, but it was your decision nonetheless. And you acted. That's guts.

Whether the shot went in or not is absolutely immaterial. It's immaterial, that is, if you know in your heart that you did everything during, AND IN PREPARATION FOR, the game that you possibly could. Only you will know if that is true. If not, then that's where the humility comes in and you can either learn a lesson and apply it so that you are more prepared next time, or you can let the opportunity to grow, and grow your *courage*, pass right by. Because that's another component of having that instinctive ability to decide to act. If you have prepared, if you have studied, if you have practiced and put in your all, then there is no shame in taking your rightful place as somebody who will and does affect the outcome whether it's on the basketball court, your job, your class, or even your own home. Guts is something with which we are all bestowed. We can help it grow by doing the work to get there.


Guts - courage - is not always so dramatic. It is not always so urgent. And sometimes that is when it gets really difficult to make the courageous choice, unless, as I stated earlier, you are more empathetic and emotionally vulnerable to the possible results of your inaction. It can likewise happen that that same sensitivity which makes you so susceptible to the hurts and wounded pride of failure (either in fact, or only in your mind), is that same vulnerability that ultimately compels the most courageous and selfless actions from you. You care more about the cost of not acting than you are afraid of taking action.

Eight year old Jamie hops off the school bus and begins skipping down the culdesac to her house. She's smiling and humming, and then stops.

"Mew mew mew!"

"Huh?"

Somehow, a little tiny furball of a kitten has made its way up a nearby tree, and doesn't know enough about Isaac Newton to have found its way down.

"Mewwwrr!"

"Oh! Sorry kitty, but I can't!"

"Mewwrr! Mew-mewwrr!"

"But I'm afraid I'll fall! Oh! I'm very sorry!"

"MEWRR! MEW! MEW! Meewrrrr?"

Jamie lowers her head and begins to walk away. She just can't help that poor kitty! She's just about to her house and cannot help turning her head to look at the kitten, and a couple of tears are sliding down her face. She stops, turns around, and begins to run frantically back to the kitten.

Wiping her arm across her eyes she yells a nearly breathless, "I'm coming, kitty! I'll help you!"

She doesn't know how she did it, and would not be able to demonstrate it to her doubting mother when asked later about her clothes. But, she climbed up that tree, tearing her sweater in the process, gently took hold of the kitten and held on to it more tightly than she held on to the tree branches on her way back down.

Her mother might have scolded her but for the hairs stuck to her cheek by one or two stray tears hairs that did not quite match her own, and but for a strange new look on her daughter's face that said she was telling the truth.

It's called guts.

Courage is not always the easiest thing to summon, and it can be damned near elusive if you cannot find a reason to care to get involved, to take a risk physically, emotionally, or socially. Courage is not the loud and boorish and arrogant "look at me!" although certainly it can surface in the most public of places. Courage is that extra push you manage to give yourself when you are *needed*. It is that pause you give yourself TO yourself and FOR yourself. When another is putting you down, when *life* is putting you down, courage is what you DO to take a stand and say I AM SOMEBODY!

Courage is not a test you must pass to show that you are somebody. Courage is a gift you possess by the grace of your birth - *because* you ARE somebody! Let's get off of that fence and make an impact.

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