Can we maximise our potential?

October 8, 2023

Do Frogs really boil to death? Probably!

You know the apologue of the frog in the boiling water. Drop a frog in boiling water and it will immediately hop out to save itself. Put the frog in cold water and bring it to the boil. Sensing no danger, it takes no action, and the frog slowly meets its end.

So it can be with life - we sit, we wait and we tolerate until we eventually we keel over with not much to show for our three-score and ten. We forget that the world is an arena of action. It is a game that must be played. Life goes on around us at pace and we have a choice. Do we let the mould grow over us or do we join in? As a game it is supposed to be played with vigour but many of us, myself included, play only in fits and starts, taking ourselves to the sidelines when we think the ball has been punted far enough up the pitch to take the pressure off. Most of us don’t even know the rules and we take our cues from those around us. The problem is that by not taking part whole-heartedly we only use a fraction of our potential but my point today, is that this is in fact the point of life...maximising our potential.

Self-actualisation means living up to your potential - most people don’t.

In counseling and business books, there is a term called "self-actualization". While not coined by Maslow, he made it popular through his "hierarchy of needs". If you self-actualise, it means that you are reaching your full potential and have become the best version of yourself. In its truest sense, it is not materialistic - this has nothing to do with the baubles you can accumulate, but it is about the journey of personal growth. People who do self-actualise have a strong sense of purpose and they know their frame well. It is a lifelong trek. Here is the kicker - Maslow estimated that only 1- 2% of people complete this journey, but while there are many holes in Maslow’s theory, the point still stands. Most people don’t reach their potential.

Only 1-2% of people reach their potential

Why can’t we live up to our potential?

Why can’t we live up to our potential? This question gets to the heart of the meaning of life. Well, I think the answer is that life is hard, the obstacles are high and purpose of life unclear . Just like in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, as we try to leave the “City of Destruction” our first steps often find us bogged down in the “swamp of despair”. Many, like the character Pliable, abandon their journey, daring not to travel onwards. Like most, I too have feared the journey ahead, and I have settled for the predictable and mundane. Materially, I’ve done ok, but at what cost emotionally and spiritually?

Don't just follow the crowd

In the end I looked to my contemporaries who were also playing in this game of life, I concluded a man’s full human potential can only be realised through his job with his ultimate aim being promotion or some sort of financial windfall but over the years, staying busy in the world has not added any feeling of personal redemption; if anything, it has only inflamed my existential angst. The modern office feels like a latter day “Dark Satanic Mill” with is loss of connection to land and nature. Where beauty is sacrificed for technological process. I am not a machine, I don’t want to be reduced to one. There is more to me. I am human with emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. These cannot be sated by what feels like an alien system.

What does it mean to live fully as a human?

Here’s the intriguing bit: how many of us reflect on what it means to be human? Are we content just to be mere cogs in a machine, trapped in the rat race of life? Have we forgotten what it means to fly with the eagles?

Yes, I think so. Earlier I referenced Marlow, and his “hierarchy of needs”. I think most of us get stuck on level 2 of 7, (Safety and security) with only brief forays into the remaining zones. Some of this is down to how the system is rigged, but also I believe that our national loss of faith means we have forgotten the transcendent. We get waylaid at the shrine of things, process and safety. The office or workplace becomes our source and our church. For without it, no advancement seems possible.

It is impossible to live out your potential without God

Taken to its conclusion, I would then argue that man cannot advance on the path to self-actualisation without a faith in God. For what is man’s chief end but to glorify God and enjoy him forever? The point of the journey is not to become a self-made man, but in fact a Christ- made man.

The way to self-actualisation is to set off on the journey to be more like Jesus. Even if we stumble and fall, by just being on the “narrow way” there is the possibility and hope to experience life to its full potential. All other paths lead away from it or around it. To follow the siren call of any idol, that is to put anything else in the place of God, will lead us off the cliff and into calamity.

When Kuyper said in his speech at the opening of the Free University in Amsterdam,

“There is not one square inch in the whole of creation over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!”

So it is that Christ demands every part of our lives. Not to deprive us of anything but so that when we freely give him our small portion, he will multiply it and bless it beyond human comprehension. This is what it means when he says you will have life, and have it more abundantly.(John 10 v 10)

So if you want to be the best version of you. If you want to live out your potential, the first step has to be turning your eyes towards Jesus and walking upwards in faith towards that Celestial city.

Main image by Ales Krivec, St Jacob Church link to original image here CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0