Today I wanted to talk to you about the frustration of untapped potential.
I’m just coming off a week where over 400 women registered for my workshop What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up: Midlife Edition. One of the issues we discussed that seemed to hit a nerve with so many was how the root cause of your discontent right now is feeling shitty about your untapped, unused and ignored potential. If you feel like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender” then this episode is a shot in the arm for you.
I’m going to give you 3 short pieces of advice today. Short because we actually are allowed to make this as simple as possible to feel better.
Number 1: What’s done is done.
Be honest with yourself. How much time and energy do you spend daily spinning about conversations or situations or decisions in the past? Do you have a secret portal that let’s you go back and actually make changes? If so, why you holding out on me?
Do you say things like I was going to be a [fill in the blank] but then I got married, or I had kids, or my spouse got a job out of state. Or I would have been happier if I took that job or moved to that city. My life would be different now and it would be perfect.
I lovingly tell you it’s time to stop telling yourself and others that story. You made decisions. Things happened. Or they didn’t happen. You’re here now. And you have all the tools and power to start writing a new story.
You have a limited amount of time and energy. Does it seem prudent to you to spend it on the past? How about you put 90% of it to good use enjoying the good in your life right now and the other 10% laying the groundwork to make the second half regret proof.
Number 2: Women’s lives have chapters. But that’s not the message we got growing up. WE were the generation that was going to have it all. Remember that grade A bullshit? That somehow we could have high powered careers and be devoted mothers and sex kittens for our parters but never miss a kid performance or a deadline to land that big client.
Were we supposed to have a new juiced up battery pack installed in 1990? If so, I missed my upgrade appointment. You?
So maybe we landed that dream job with a clearly spelled out promotion path. But I don’t think we can sugarcoat how messy it got when you added marriages and kids or maybe it was worse if you didn’t add marriage and kids. Because still there’s always been the subtext that women are supposed to be wife and mother.
This idea of having it all is just an extension of the revered skill of multitasking. But you know what research is saying now about multitasking, right? When you do lots of things at the same time you do none of them particularly well. If you want to go toe to toe with me and tell me how amazing you do everything all the time, I’m going to challenge you to see how well you could do something if you were actually fully focused on it.
Let’s look at our lives as books. And for those of you that just skipped to the last page to see how it ends, feel my ruler on the back of your hand. There is no cliff notes version for this. You need to live it cover to cover and relish every word, every storyline, even the ones that are sad and hard and miserable and painful. You know what makes that more bearable? When you’ve been present and appreciative of the good times. That’s the good stuff. Start paying attention to the peace.
So maybe this chapter leading up to Midlife hasn’t been blockbuster worthy. For a lot of us, it was consumed with caring for others, unfortunately at our own expense. And we’re feeling done. Over it. And ready to turn the page.
How much better does it feel to acknowledge those truths but then also be able to compartmentalize this time period into a chapter. And know that you can put a period on it, title the next page in bold and have an exclamatory introduction sentence to re-engage your reader (that’s you) to start a new chapter, a new phase.
I know many of you may be sitting there with writer’s block. You’re not alone. Just be honest with yourself about what you truly want. If you tell me you don’t know, I think it’s one of two issues; either you’re afraid to listen to it or you’ve buried your needs and your wants down so deep for so long that you’re going to have to send out a search party. Either way, I promise you, the answer is not out here…it’s in there.
Number 3 and my final piece of advice to start living up to your potential. Do something about it. You don’t need to know what you’re doing with the rest of your life. You just have to take the next step. The path will illuminate itself for you if you would just start walking. It’s got nifty lights with electronic eyes installed that see you. There will be twists and turns, sure, but you’ll see them coming. Be Newton’s First Law of Physics, an object in motion stays in motion.
If I could continue to dork out here for a moment, there’s a concept that originated with early economists to describe the maximum productivity of real estate. It’s called highest and best use. Simply stated, a piece of land needs to be used for its highest and best use to reach its peak value. Joni Mitchell said it best, pave paradise, put up a parking lot. Or tear down a two story shop and put in a 10 story office building. You get the idea.
Write the next chapter that finally incorporates your highest and best use. Oh, but one more thing. You are not putting up a concrete building. You are built of legos and you are meant to take many different forms throughout your life. I’m just talking to you about your next chapter. Expect that you will be tearing down and rebuilding throughout your life. Afterall, no one builds a lego once and just leaves it on a shelf to be looked at instead of played with.
See, I told you, short and sweet. One, stop spinning in the past. Two, give yourself the compassion of acknowledging women have chapters and know you haven’t even gotten to the story’s climax yet. Three, create the future you want and deserve. Start searching for your highest and best use. At least what that should be in THIS chapter. You have the power to make that a reality.
If you’re nodding along but you don’t know where to start or how to make this a reality. We should talk. Feel free to shoot me an email.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.