Have you ever noticed how in organisations potential is seen as something you achieve or don’t? Perhaps it’s connected to the use of sports analogies in the workplace or the dogged focus on talent through the monocle of leadership succession…
Anyhow, there seems to be this portrayal as potential being something to achieve. An ambition to fulfil. A destination. It’s not.potential (adj.) late 14c., “possible” (as opposed to actual), from L.L. potentialis “potential,” from L. potentia “power” (see potent). The noun, meaning “that which is possible,” is first attested 1817, from the adjective. [http://www.etymonline.com]
Potential is all about possibility. It’s not a destination. It’s what could be. It’s powerful and it’s potent.
Potential is the smell of freshly baked bread. It tempts, it guides, it leads us towards a place we might want to be.
Potential is the sound of the cars’ engine screaming down the road. It’s danger, it warns, it informs of what could be if we didn’t take action.
It’s not what is. It’s what could be.
Similarly, we think of fruition as being the end result of our labours. That’s not the original intent of the word :fruition (n.) early 15c., “act of enjoying,” from M.Fr. fruition and directly from L.L. fruitionem (nom. fruitio) “enjoyment,” noun of action from L. frui “to use, enjoy.” Sense of “act or state of bearing fruit” is first recorded 1885 by mistaken association with fruit; figurative sense is from 1889. [http://www.etymonline.com]
It’s original pre-industrial revolution meaning feels so much more liberating. It’s not a destination. It’s enjoyment itself.
When potential comes to fruition?
Our contemporary perception of “potential coming to fruition” is about achieving our goals. Harvesting the reward of our labours. But what next? I much prefer a deeper reinterpretation. The enjoyment of potential itself. The delight of sensing what could be when we follow our senses….
- Seeing that member of staff flourishing, learning, developing – enjoying their journey and what they could achieve
- The changing smells around us signalling that autumn is coming – summer hasn’t passed but something exciting is coming.
- Listening to the stereo in that half hour before the party has started – everything is ready but the guests have yet to arrive.
- The feel of the water as lower yourself into the pool – the anticipation of your next movements gliding you through that body of water.
- The taste of the sweet cake mixture taken from the mixing bowl – a sneaky foretelling of the cake that will transform in the oven.
- That sixth sense that wakes you from your sleep telling you that it might have started to snow – the arrival of something different as yet unseen or confirmed.
Exciting and full of anticipation, potential is a sense of what could be whilst recognising we don’t yet know what it is.
The destination will come. In the meantime, follow your senses and enjoy the potential all around you!
For me potential is like leadership – it’s a journey with no fixed destination. I wonder what people mean when they say things like…’achieve or reach’ your potential…then what…you have no potential left, because you have got there or achieved it? Great post
Spot on Vera. We never see our senses as have an ending so why do we for potential or leadership…
Love it. The pleasure of what could be. I read once that the first astronauts suffered depression after returning from the moon because their entire focus for years had come to an end and there was no longer a driving purpose. I’ve also heard that the athletes who best adjust to retirment are those who had a plan in place with a new set of goals, purpose, and potential vs. those that retired and then asked “what’s next?” I suspect it’s the lack of potential – sitting in the middle of mundane with little sense of anticipation – fueling lots of midlife crises and sudden, self-destructive decisions.
Thanks for sharing those stories Broc – they really highlight how important it is for us to have that continuous journey.