One of the most common causes of mediocrity is the sense of comfort and contentment we feel when others express satisfaction with our work. While elements such as a happy client, a pleased customer, a proud parent, an impressed mentor, or a thrilled audience may be useful for gauging progress in certain contexts, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Being exceptional at doing what the world demands of you (assuming you’ve agreed to those demands) is only half of what it takes to be great. The other half is what you demand of yourself.
One of the most self-defeating fallacies is the notion that other people—especially the ones we respect–are knowledgeable enough to see our full potential, committed enough to demand that we fulfill it, and privy enough to recognize when we’ve done so.
Here’s the harsh reality: If you remain the same person for the next 2-3 years, most people won’t care. Most people don’t need to see improvements in your income, intelligence, or overall sense of well-being. Most people’s expectations for you are based on their own needs. As long as you give them what they want from you and as long as you don’t make their lives worse, you’ll be fine in their eyes.
I have a friend who wants to be a movie star, but for now he works in a grocery store. I don’t need him to be in a movie in order for me to sleep soundly at night. If he’s still working in a grocery store in five years, he’ll still be my friend and I won’t be let down. It’s not that I don’t believe in him. It’s just that I have no idea what to expect from his life. While I wish him the best, I’m mostly concerned with two things: 1) that he continues to meet my expectations of a good friend and 2) that he’s healthy, alive, and relatively happy. Do you care about my friend’s movie aspirations? Probably not. If he fails to succeed, it’s doubtful that you’ll say “Oh no, T.K.’s friend was the next Brad Pitt and he never succeeded. What a tragedy!”
The world didn’t need Mark Zuckerberg to deliver Facebook because the world had no concept of Facebook before it was delivered. If Mark Zuckerberg had failed to create Facebook, we wouldn’t be sitting around bemoaning the fact that he never became the successful entrepreneur we now know him to be. We would just look at him as another person or we wouldn’t think about him at all.
That”s exactly how most people see your potential.
Most people have no idea what you’re capable of. Most people don’t sit around thinking about how far your potential reaches. Most people are just focused on what you’re doing for them based on their own needs rather than an assessment of what you’re truly capable of creating.
People can’t demand or expect something from you if they have no idea what to expect. Sometimes you have to push yourself to be, do, and have things that nobody expects before they can see it, appreciate it, and respect it.
Much of your potential lies hidden in a realm where the rest of the world doesn’t even have the ability to look: your own imagination.
Can you imagine greater possibilities for your life than the ones other people are willing to accept?
Don’t underestimate your ability to surprise people with unexpected effort, unexpected innovation, and unexpected ambition. Beyond the good opinion of others, there lies a superior version of yourself. When people are impressed with you, say “thanks” but don’t stop there. Keep working, keep creating, keep developing your potential, keep honing your skills, keep mastering your craft, keep trying new things, and keep pushing yourself to live up to the standards of your own conscience. Have enough self-love to appreciate people’s acceptance of where you currently are, but develop enough self-respect to hold yourself accountable to the higher standard of becoming the person you know you’re truly capable of becoming.