What is Anyone Capable of?

Bill Abbate

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How well do you know yourself? Do you know what and who you are? How well do you know what you are capable of becoming? How can we find answers to questions such as these?

Let me introduce you to a unique person who lived more than three hundred years ago. Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher during the Age of Enlightenment and is considered one of the great rationalists of philosophy in the 17th-century.

Spinoza's work was far-reaching, influencing other greats such as Nietzsche, Freud, Goethe, Coleridge, Santayana, and Albert Einstein, among many others. He is considered one of the great thinkers in the world by many even today. In the following quote, Spinoza makes a statement about life that merits careful consideration:

"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life." Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

What we are

How much thought have you given to what you are? Each of us is the result of everything in our lives up to this point. What we are has been influenced by everyone we have known since we were born and by every other person who has touched our lives since. Are these not the same people, you ask? No, they are not.

The people we know have been "in" our lives while the others exert influence "on" our lives. These others come through books, television, movies, plays, or passerby's on the street. While their impact is not as direct as those who are "in" our lives, such as a parent, neighbor, friend, teacher, colleague, or boss, they still influence how and what we think.

Have you given much thought to how complex life is on the earth? Every one of the 8 billion people alive today experiences life differently, unique only to them and no one else. Humanity contains countless variables, yet each influence contains the potential to make us something different than we are today.

With such a complex existence, how can we know what we are? Other than the basics of being a living, breathing person with feelings, emotions, memories, and the ability to think, it appears there are no limits to what we are.

The reality is only you know who you are. Others can guess and may know you well, but no one knows you as well as you. This leads us back to the question, what are we? We can give the superficial response of a human being, male or female, but that tells us little.

What you are is something only you can determine, so let me ask you – "What are you?" "Who are you?" Why not get to know yourself better. If you don't take the time to understand yourself, you can bet no one else will!

When you find out what you are and who you are, you will find the next part of Spinoza's words most helpful.

What are we capable of becoming?

The amazing thing about life on this planet is how few restrictions exist on our lives. We each have the potential within us to determine what we are, what we do, and who we are becoming. We do these things moment by moment by what we think and do. That means the possibilities of what we are capable of becoming are endless!

Before I read Spinoza's quote, I had never asked myself the question, "What am I capable of?" If only I had discovered his words at a younger age. But alas, now I am old. Yet being old does not stop me from becoming more of what I am capable of becoming. Until we take our last breath, we have not exhausted this potential!

From each of our life experiences, we know we can become something far more than we are. We are capable of learning far more, doing far more, achieving far more, and becoming far more than we are or have been! Is that not a wonderful thought! Life begins anew every day, and all we need to do is seize it!

The phrase carpe diem makes far more sense now does it not!

Why not ask yourself the following two questions and think long and hard about the answers. Where do you find these answers? By looking within yourself!

  • What am I?
  • What am I capable of becoming

When you find the answers, you find your life! Your life is your purpose or end, as Spinoza puts it.

Final thoughts

What is your life worth? Do you value it greatly? Do you know what you are capable of becoming in this life? Why not take time to contemplate Spinoza's words seriously. Ask yourself, "What am I?" so you can better determine the answer to "What am I capable of becoming?"

As one of the most famous inventors the world has ever known once said:

"If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves." Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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