Growing Our Human Potential

What Holds Us Back From Being Our Full Potential?

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The following quote from Harvard Business Review is a great way to start off our discussion. It is always nice to start with a reputable source.

Ambitious professionals often spend a substantial amount of time thinking about strategies that will help them achieve greater levels of success. They strive for a more impressive job title, higher compensation, and responsibility for more sizable revenues, profits, and numbers of employees. Their definitions of success are often heavily influenced by family, friends, and colleagues. Yet many ultimately find that, despite their efforts and accomplishments, they lack a true sense of professional satisfaction and fulfillment. During my career with Goldman Sachs, as well as over the past few years of teaching and coaching managers and MBA students at Harvard Business School, I have met a surprisingly large number of impressive executives who expressed deep frustration with their careers. They looked back and felt that they should have achieved more or even wished that they had chosen a different career altogether.

Harvard Business Review,

Another way of looking at this is through employee engagement surveys. Let’s take a look at the Gallup results for 2019, when the economy was white hot and pre-pandemic.

Gallup found that in 2019, the percentage of “engaged” workers in the U.S. — those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — reached 35%.
The percentage of workers who are “actively disengaged” — those who have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues — reached 13%
The remaining 52% of workers are in the “not engaged” category — those who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who put time, but not energy or passion, into their work. Not engaged employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required. They’re also on the lookout for better employment opportunities and will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.

Let’s put a cost to low employee engagement:

Gallup as estimated that employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as $350 billion every year. That’s a staggering number, but it’s hard to get motivated to tackle such an endemic problem. Instead, think about what each company loses per year: at least $2,246 per disengaged employee.

So what does it mean to be achieving your full potential? One characteristic of this person would be that they are an engaged worker. Someone who is operating at their potential would obviously be highly engaged.

According the MacMillan Dictionary: “to achieve the standard that you are capable of

This is simple and easy to grasp. A good starting point. Here is another description…

To achieve your potential, you need to develop a sense of what you are naturally like so that you can focus in areas that accord with your innate interests, nature, and strengths. This prevents you wasting time by trying to be a duckling when you are really a swan.

What I would add is that we are all capable of so much more than we think we are. I wrote an article on LinkedIn regarding being our full potential. I begin with an example of using your arm to break through multiple cement blocks. It would seem impossible. Here is a quote from this article.

But what if you were to know that you could, with training and practice, break not only one block, but the whole stack with only your arm and hand? You decide to challenge yourself and you are amazed at the potential you actually have. Now imagine if you applied this to any and every aspect of self!! This is what becoming our full potential is all about. A realization that with training, dedication, motivation, courage and practice, we can improve virtually every aspect of self. You want to be a great leader, great software engineer, great human being, great parent, spouse, YOU CAN!! We can indeed become our full potential.

So what holds us back? Although there are many reasons, if we look behind these reasons we typically see the following root causes. First our situation in life has to be conducive with being able to focus on self-actualization. This is best described by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model. Second is our own Stinking Thinking. You have to believe in yourself, and for many of us, we lack the self-esteem (one of the needs we had to meet on Maslow’s hierarchy), self-confidence, and have an abundance of unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and life around us. We have to have transitioned from victim to victor before we can make this leap. Third is taking that hard look in the mirror. This is only possible once we are no longer a victim, but one who recognizes we are in charge of our life. We enter the period of self-discovery to learn about who we are including our strengths, weaknesses, personality type, beliefs, values, aspirations, dreams, etc.

Stinking Thinking

I want to expand on the comment I made, “we are all capable of so much more than we think we are.” The key word in this statement is “think”. The key limiting factor to attaining our full potential is that we limit what we think about ourselves. Many of us grew up with comments like, “you will never amount to anything” or “stop dreaming and get to work”. When we are young and impressionable, these comments turn into “limiting beliefs”. In my case, one of my limiting beliefs was that “I am not worthy”, which was the culmination of years of abuse and negative comments. Our beliefs form and are stored deep in our subconscious. In counseling I worked backwards to first identify the negative consequences I was experiencing, then to determine what I was doing, my behaviors, that was leading to these consequences, and finally to come to grips with these limiting or unhealthy beliefs. A simple yet powerful concept of personal growth. That if we want better consequences in our life, we have to take responsibility for our own actions, and then work to change our unhealthy beliefs into healthier beliefs!

Meeting Our Basic Needs First

Another factor that can hold us back can be understood with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs model as shown here. This basically states that we must meet basic needs first before we can meet greater needs. For example, if we are poor than most of our time is consumed with the basics of food, safety and shelter. It is not until we have met these needs that we can begin to focus on Love, Belonging, Self-Esteem, and ultimately Self-Actualization.

Being our full potential is characteristic of self-actualization in his model. All of the other needs below self-actualization have been met which allows us to focus on becoming our full potential. This means that we have to have a strong self-esteem and sense of love and belonging. This can be difficult for those who have unresolved issues from their past that must be healed first.

Know Thyself

So we have eliminated most of our stinking thinking and have met all of our needs so that we can focus on self-actualization, now what? Well if we do not know thyself in terms of our strengths, weaknesses, personality type, beliefs, values, dreams, aspirations, than in what direction do we go? As the saying goes, if we do not know where we are going, any road will do. The key to becoming our full potential is to first understand these aspects of self so that what we do is based on who we are and what we want to be. This is the stage of self-discovery. We come to know who we truly are and want to be, along with our own definitions of happiness and success vs. those that we were told.

This is worthy of a brief juncture to understand my own framework for becoming our full potential. More on this can be viewed in a prior post on this topic which can be found here.

A Framework for Becoming Our Full Potential

The first stage is Personal Growth.

Personal Growth is the development of our root system, our subconscious, with a healthy and strong self-esteem, confidence, awareness, while learning to take charge of our life vs. assuming a victim mindset. With the assistance of professionals we take that hard look within to understand what we are doing and why. For those able to endure the challenges we uncover, and develop the courage to make changes, we heal our current root system, provide it with the nutrients we did not receive, and slowly build a new root system or foundation that is develops our resilience so that we are more prepared to weather whatever comes our way, just as a tree must survive storms, droughts, and harsh weather.


There are those who decide to go further with their growth with a focus on becoming our full potential. Once again, we venture back within ourselves to understand our strengths and aspects of self that is holding ourselves back. We decide what kind of tree we want to be, the fruits we want to bare, how big we want to be. We learn that our motivation comes from an intrinsic belief in self, and a set of values that fit who we are and want to be. We develop the very core of our being and realize that it is our attitude and beliefs that drive our behavior and ultimately the consequences we experience. We learn to become our full potential as a human being and choose a path that is consistent with who and what we are. The chosen path influences our life and career decisions. We redefine what happiness and success means and blaze this new path.

This requires a lot of courage since we have to leave the limits of our former mental, physical and emotional conditioning. We come to define our path forward


And then there are those aspiring to go further, with a quest to understand the meaning of life and how they fit into it, their purpose in life, and/or answer life’s deep and profound questions. This is an ultimate quest for growth, which I refer to the stage of self-enlightenment. With each stage, it is harder, because you must go deeper and deeper within, along with confronting the deep and profound questions that make us uncomfortable. We also must leave our comfort zone and safety in numbers as we move out on our own. As you progress through the stages, you will also find that there are fewer and fewer people on a similar journey. The reward is characteristic of those who strive to reach the peak of Mt. Everest, an awareness and feeling that few words can describe, other than those who have been there. We come to know life itself, and confront our mortality, which provides the greatest meaning to life

By the way, check out the article, “What Does ‘Achieving Your Potential’ Really Mean? 7 steps to help you become who you really are.” Here is an example from this article.

Having left school at 14 to work as a bellboy at The Mount Wilson Hotel, he later became employed as a mule driver, transporting astronomical equipment up to the famous observatory. Milton Humason then managed to become a janitor at the observatory, where he worked with Edwin Hubble. Humason asked another astronomer to teach him mathematics in his spare time. Gradually, he learned about the photographic equipment used by the astronomers for delving into the nature of the stars. He rose to the role of photographic assistant, then assistant astronomer. When Hubble discovered the existence of other galaxies beyond our Milky Way and the expansion of the universe, he was keen to assign some of the glory to Humason. He’d been a lowly mule driver – he helped us know our place in the universe.

Soooo, being your potential is a choice. No matter what our past was or what we are told, we can take charge of our life. Being you at your best is the greatest gift you can give to your family and humanity. Dismiss any expectations of what your full potential should be and instead focus on what you want it to mean and be. You are awesome!

About Me

Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (

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