As a kid, I hated the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” No one who asked wanted my answer; they only wanted to unburden their dreams and unfulfilled wishes as I stood, a trapped audience.
We love stories about successful people who saw their future career path from an early age. They are the exception. For the rest of us, asking a seven-year-old to draw on their experience of the world to predict their entire future creates an inaccurate impression about how life unfolds.
Creator vs Grow Up to Be What
The world used to offer a lot fewer career options, and some people still found unique and exciting ways to support their lives. For as many in the last century who worked as accountants and dreamed of singing on stage or opening a bistro, there were those who refused to conform and fought to find their own way.
To illustrate, imagine the population divided as follows:
- 70% conformists
- 30% non-conformists
If 70 percent of people accept whatever job they can to survive or choose a profession to gain status and money, then 30 percent have been the black sheep who went from job to job or scheme to scheme or doggedly worked on a talent. Of the 30 percent, perhaps a third succeeded — some wildly. That small, doggedly authentic percentage has been the artists, creators, leaders, inventors, and entrepreneurs of our world.
“I want to be an airline pilot!”
“I want to be a ballerina!”
“I want to be a digital marketing specialist!”
When friends and family were asking me the question, “what do you want to be…,” web content writing wasn’t invented yet.
Mentors and Masterminds
Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely. ― William Faulkner
For independent creators, it’s about having enough confidence in our dream or potential to bring it from inside of us out into the world.
Instead of showing up and doing what is expected, creators boldly step forward before they can see a path. Often, people around them discourage their efforts or push them toward another path.
It can be like feeling your way in the dark while people are shouting for you to turn back.
This is why mentors and mastermind groups are frequently and highly recommended. When we surround ourselves with wise people who have achieved and accomplished they create a raft that helps us float through the vast emptiness of uncertainty until what we are creating starts taking shape.
Everything Big Starts Small
Many notable players in the U.S. economy did not exist 50 years ago — Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Uber, and Amazon to name a few. This means each of these monoliths was nothing but an idea in someone’s mind fairly recently.
Looking in on celebrity at its height or a company after its achieved success is a snapshot of a moment in time, but inevitably on the way to that snapshot was a long and, at times, arduous journey.
Hollywood is a great example. We think of successful actors and the handful of A-list celebrities and your personal favorites come to mind. However, the reality of living in Los Angeles or New York is there are masses of actors, musicians, and artists who are doing well and making a good living at their craft without the fame and fortune we associate with it.
If we begin with stardom or creating the next Facebook in mind we are not in sync with the unique journey that our talents, skills, and experience can become. Our genius may be a quiet one.
Reaching for the stars often originates from a deep dissatisfaction with existing conditions. It’s like we’re squeezing out our joy, happiness, and light and then reaching for something that will restore it to us. Chasing what we believe we lack ignites the Universal prankster who will fiendishly keep it always at arms-length.
Rather than chasing the stars, we shine when we let our authentic light through. By facing and healing what we don’t like about ourselves and our lives, we make more room for happiness. We don’t have to prove our value; it’s intrinsically ours.
The Measure of Potential
What is the most important measure of success?
Or all of those conditions and traits — trappings of success but not the source?
We give so much attention to the trappings of wealth and accomplishment we de-emphasize the qualities that make us great neighbors, friends, and leaders. A healthy community is built by balanced, grounded, capable people when we express our talents and abilities for the enrichment and benefit of others. Money and status may follow, or not.
Many who’ve lived great wealth, fame, or power say they do not provide happiness.
Whereas developing ourselves is always satisfying.
In its media, communications, and assumptions, our culture implies that if you are rich enough, famous enough, or beautiful enough, you will be happy and fulfilled. Instead of encouraging the legitimate personal growth that brings people satisfying wins, these surface-level goals work against it.
If we’re trying to escape our life, we’re digging ourselves in deeper.
Defining my potential by how much money I have or how many people love me creates a temporary and false sense of self-esteem that will eventually feel betrayed. The best way to define your potential is through self-actualization or spiritual potential.
Maslow and Self-Actualization
I was sitting in a wooden seat in a social psychology class my junior year of college when the professor directed us to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s vivid in my memory because as I read through the text and examined the pyramid bells were ringing in my head. This was it! There was more possible than a life of the expected drudgery.
The hierarchy of needs represents self-actualization as the highest-order motivation. Once our survival, safety, and relationships are functional we are free to realize our true potential and achieve creative self-growth.
Maslow put forth that those who are self-actualized have an appreciation for what life has to offer, a deep concern for others, and enjoy close, meaningful, personal relationships.
He compiled a list of behaviors that contributed to self-actualization.
- Maintain the curiosity and wonder of a child
- Try new things
- Speak your truth even if you risk standing out
- Work hard and smart at whatever you do
- Be true to what you want and what’s important to you
- Take responsibility for your life and your actions
Spiritual potential is another approach to understanding self-actualization. It is NOT about following religious rules; though it does include adhering to your values and being true to yourself. It is NOT about being pure or perfect, though it does include having empathy and compassion for yourself and others.
Spiritual potential stems from the idea that our soul comes in with a purpose. This soul-driven expression of life extends beyond family DNA or the time and place of our birth.
We are meant to grasp opportunities and pursue growth to develop our soul’s potential.
Instead of trying to fit ourselves into boxes the soul wants us to cultivate our natural talents and abilities.
Achieving your spiritual potential is the process of unfolding into your unique perspective.
Stuck in an Archetype or Fluid in Self and Expression?
When we’re stuck in an archetype like ‘the rescuer,’ ‘the chameleon,’ ‘the damsel in distress,’ ‘the good girl,’ or ‘the bad boy’ we are not being ourselves. These archetypes are like template overlays that our authenticity has to filter through.
A pure, uncovered crystal in the window reflects cascades of light. If you encase most of the crystal in metal and hang it in the window it will still reflect light but only a tiny percentage of the normal amount.
We all unconsciously inhabit different archetypes. They may be so natural to us we think they ‘are’ us, or we may not have made them conscious before. Archetypes are rich patterns of expression but only if you can consciously put them on and take them off.
Because social status can be bought or manipulated, people choose to repress and deny their authentic selves and instead base their self-worth on constructed identity. You can recognize a constructed identity because it’s a xerox of others you’ve already met.
Examples of constructed identities include:
This is the person who always thinks they are in charge, takes the credit, directs the blame (away from them), but never actually does anything. Aristocrats want titles and money but are not willing to do the work. For this reason, they are susceptible to corruption. They are willing to accept opportunities to enhance their lifestyle without excessive concern for moral implications.
Professional with Status
These are smart and capable people who can shine professionally while hiding their true selves behind professional status. This includes the smart lawyer who dreams of travel writing or the capable doctor who would prefer running a day spa.
The obligated laborer shows up to work for the paycheck.
As our authentic selves, we can show up as anything. We have natural talents and abilities that can express through a variety of avenues. In a world where a higher percentage of people were actively self-actualizing you’d see an increase in people who were:
- Artisans (from bricklayers to furniture makers)
- Artists (whether your canvas is a plate of food or film or marble)
- Teachers (not just in school!)
Personal development is a journey of self-discovery, re-organization, and self-realization.
Authenticity is Natural
The loss of self is the essence of trauma -Gabor Maté
What does it take to survive in the wild? The industrial world is a recent human development. Animals show us that intelligence is useful in the wild, but only when combined with gut instinct and intuition.
Because of our amazing growth and technology, we have created the potential for a previously unimaginable standard of living for the world. Unlike any other time in history, we are poised to bring back the power and grace of nature while living productive, comfortable, varied lives. Let’s do it.