Feel Like You Haven’t Lived Up to Your Full Potential? Let’s Fix That

Declan Wilson

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Tell me if this has ever happened to you:

You’re scrolling through social media when you see someone you respect and admire post about a huge accomplishment. At first you feel happy for them, they deserve it, they’ve worked hard for it. But then — ever so slowly — a twinge of jealousy boils up. Why haven’t you been able to accomplish the same thing? Why aren’t you as successful?

Why does it feel like you haven’t lived up to your potential?

This happens to me, a lot. My reaction to other people’s success is often predicated on my own personal well-being. It’s more of a reflection of me than anything else. But let’s face it, when things don’t seem to be going our way, when we expect results but nothing happens, we start beating ourselves up over it.

We start asking those big questions.

I’m pushing 30. Even though birthdays are an arbitrary benchmark, I still find myself looking back at the past 10 years and wondering why I haven’t amounted to anything (which isn’t true, but some days it feels like it). I comb through my major life decisions to understand where I steered wrong…

Once you put all the blame on yourself, it’s hard to learn and make adjustments. But have you ever thought about this: Maybe your life’s trajectory isn’t 100% attributed to you and your actions?

It’s a dangerous path to lead oneself, to not take full responsibility of your current situation. But it’s equally dangerous to ignore the hidden affects all around us.

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell’s main argument is the way we attribute success is entirely wrong. Yes there exists outliers who seem to stand out above all the rest, but if we take a deeper look, their success can be linked to a few key elements. Elements such as when and where they were born for example.

People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up.
-Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

I want to use this post to help you unpack your life thus far. By the end my goal is for you to erase “failure” and “potential” from describing your current state and for you to accept responsibility for the actions you can take right now to move forward.

But first, let’s look at a healthy and constructive way to examine your life.

Take inventory of your life

I have no job. I stay at home all day with my kids. I owe thousands and thousands of dollars in debt. On the outside it looks like I’m nothing but a deadbeat dad.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and why should it? If you explained your current situation in 150 characters what would it look like?

The history and context we leave out of our life narratives can drastically make a difference of how we see ourselves

  • I don’t have a “job” because I left my full-time career to start my own business.
  • I’m at home all day with my kids because my wife and I decided we wanted to homeschool.
  • I owe thousands and thousands of dollars because I’m paying off student loans I signed up for when I was 17 (and if you haven’t noticed, I don’t even use my degree).

I’ve already lived though this story, but can you guess how many times I’ve repeated the initial 150 character version of my life to myself?

Too many times.

It’s easy to pick out the few things that nag us day to day and use those to define our life. It’s almost like judging a pineapple by its prickly bits when there is so much more underneath (I should know, pineapple is my favorite fruit).

So how do we get there? How can we take inventory of our life to gain a better picture? 3 steps.

  1. Make a list of all your major life events or changes. Everything from that one time when you were 5 and had to move across the country to when you broke up with your long term girlfriend or boyfriend.
  2. Make another list of all your major life decisions. What college you decided to go to, getting married, changing jobs, etc.
  3. Make a third and final list of all the influential people in your life (current and past)

Once you have your three lists, start constructing a mental timeline of your life. Look at each of your major events and write out ways that they shaped you. Look at the decisions you made and try to remember the other opportunities you passed over. Look at the people in your life and think about any teachings or examples they imparted on you.

This could take awhile.

As you’ll see, where you are now is the result of thousands of decisions and actions over the course of many years, with some of the decisions and actions being done by other people!

Take me for example, every month I pay $512.13 toward my student loans with another 11 more years of payments to go. It sickens me to look at that big red number I owe. I beat myself up for it.

But is it entirely my fault? I was 17 when I “decided” to go to college. Like most teenagers, I thought college was the only option. Instead of following a passion of mine (filmmaking) I opted into an engineering degree instead.

I had no life experience at the time to better evaluate my choices. I was just doing what my peers were doing and what my parents wanted from me.

That big red number doesn’t represent failure, it represents the uninformed and pressured decision of an 17 year old.

Our lives are filled with regrets like these and it’s easy to pass blame onto our current selves. We are not our former selves. We can learn from our past and take better actions in our future.

Let’s uncover how to do that.

Take responsibility for your life

I’m wondering how many people have abandoned this post by now thinking:

“Here we go, another millennial not taking responsibility and expecting everything to be handed to them.”

Ok, Boomer.

Joking aside, my goal in my life (and within this post) is to move forward without beating ourselves up about our past.

**I’d like to pause real quick to acknowledge there are folks out there who have suffered from random and sometimes deliberate horrendous acts in their past. Please know I am not putting blame or responsibility on you. Seek professional help and guidance to better help you through your situation. ❤️**

So what does this look like? How does one take charge and make positive change in their life?

If you’re expecting a list like:

  • Wake up at 5 am
  • Take only cold showers
  • Drink only kombucha

Then you’re in the wrong place. 99% of my readers are normal human beings, not CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Instead, I prescribe the simplest method there is: Drop and give me 10.

Let me explain.

10 months ago I looked in the mirror and noticed for the first time in my life the pear-ish shape of a dad bod growing around my midsection. I’m not body shaming anyone here, my size wasn’t my biggest concern. Rather, I found myself feeling more and more sluggish and lazy. This was 8 months after my second son was born and I knew I needed to make better changes in my life or this onsetting dad bod could lead to much worse.

However, the mere thought of starting a new workout routine overwhelmed me. Where to start?

“Drop and give me 10,” I thought to myself.

In that one moment, nothing was stopping me from dropping to the floor and spending 15 seconds on 10 pushups.

The next day I did the same thing. The day after I added a few more push ups. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Can you guess where the story goes from here?

10 months later, I now lift weights 3 times a week. I play soccer on Mondays. I read more. I eat healthier. I go to sleep on time. I write almost every day. I’m a new person, both physically and mentally (and my wife and children are the immediate benefactors of this new me).

What happened between those 10 pushups to today is what Dave Ramsey calls the Snowball Method (Ramsey uses this method to help people eliminate debt, but I believe it works for a variety of situations). In other words, I started small and allowed my actions and self-help to grow over time.

Doing pushups snowballed into a workout routine. A workout routine snowballed into healthier eating habits. Healthier eating habits snowballed to better sleep habits. Better sleep habits snowballed to more reading time.

Making big, drastic changes in life is hard. Almost impossible. The reason is because we’re often not in the right mindset to push through all the hard work it requires. Instead, if we start small and allow incremental changes to push us to make slightly bigger incremental changes, over time we will find ourselves more susceptible to healthier decisions.

To take responsibility of your life is to start small, and stay patient.

Take it easy on your life

I sat in my reading chair a few evenings ago and mindlessly scrolled through Twitter (I’m not perfect). I read one tweet from an entrepreneur who humble bragged about hitting $20MM monthly run rate. I felt the same twinge of jealousy course through my skin. Twenty million dollars is a lot of money, let alone generating that month after month.

I quickly did some math in my head to compare what I made in a given month. Dejected by the lack of “0s” in my number I sulked for a few moments. But then I started thinking, this is a different person than me. He grew up in a different part of the world. He has other connections than me. He was presented with different opportunities and life paths than me.

There is absolutely no reason to compare myself to him. We’ve both lived different lives, so it’s natural to expect we arrive at different situations. From what I can tell, the one thing we have in common is we’ve done the best we could with what we had.

You’re past is in your past, there is nothing you can do about it. But right now, in this moment, you can decide to move forward, one small step at a time.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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