Achieving Your Potential - At What Cost?

Originally published 7/24/2016

Often in life, we find ourselves at a crossroads.  I picture it much like the choice Maurice faced in Beauty and the Beast.  I always wondered why he would choose the clearly more treacherous path over the safe one.  Now, his choice makes sense.  Having just faced a crossroads like this myself, I can say without a doubt I walked away from the safe path and willingly in the direction of the unknown.

I recently made the decision to end my engagement to the person who at this stage seems very likely to be the love of my life.  When I divorced my husband several years ago, it was very clear to me that we were incompatible as a couple.  This is a different situation entirely.  On a day to day basis, we got along swimmingly.  We even agreed on the big things like religion and whether or not to have kids.  But I realized there was an unstated assumption in all of our future-oriented conversations, one that once brought to the surface, quickly caused everything to crumble.  After several discussions, neither of us could come up with a viable workaround, and realized the best option, for now, was to call it quits.  It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.  If I’ve learned anything, though, it’s to lean into the discomfort of the hard decisions.

At its heart, the issue came down to reaching our potential.  In the case that we stayed together, it seemed inevitable that one of us would have to give up our dreams and forfeit being the absolute best version of ourselves.  My calling in life is to help others reach their potential, so I can’t very well sacrifice my own or ask someone dear to me to do it, either.  I have to lead by example and practice what I preach if I expect others to head my message.  It would have been easy to put the decision off or cocoon myself in the safety of companionship and compatibility.  Life would have been good, I have no doubt.  But there are certain things that if I do not at least attempt to do them, I will regret them on my death bed.  And for me, living a life I’ll knowingly regret is no way to live.

A book I just started reading is Chris Guillebeau‘s The Happiness of Pursuit, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.  One of the quotes I love most thus far is, “fear of failure, and even fear of success, holds us back from attempting many of the things we wish for.”  It’s so easy to become paralyzed by fear – of being alone, of failure, of vulnerability, and even, paradoxically, of success.  But what if we stopped letting fear rule our lives?  Imagine what we could accomplish.

The choice I made could be viewed by some as choosing my career over my partner.  It’s important to clarify a career or job versus a calling.  I would never advocate that someone leave their spouse or significant other for a promotion, raise, or fancy new title.  A calling is much more than that.  It’s that idea or quest that pops into your head when you let your mind wander.  It’s that nagging feeling that you’ll never be satisfied until you finally accomplish it, or at least give it your best effort.  Paulo Coelho does a beautiful job telling the story of the personal legend in The Alchemist.  If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this post and go read it immediately.  Taken directly from the synopsis, “Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.”

At this point, I can easily say I have no idea what the future holds.  Will I accomplish the goals that made me walk away from something wonderful?  I honestly don’t know.  But I know that I’m now prepared to give them their best shot at success.  Here’s to taking another step forward on this crazy adventure called life.