I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “potential” lately.
Mostly after watching the movie The Blindside with my family last weekend.
Webster defines potential as: existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality.
Potential is intangible. You can’t touch potential and it is difficult to measure.
As a kid, my report cards were filled with phrases like -“Nicole is not working to her potential” or “Nicole has more potential than her grades reflect” There were lots of “lack of effort” comments sprinkled in there too. I was a below average to average student. Due to my lackluster grades, I was placed in general studies classes in high school – and I performed equally as average.
Just before graduation, I decided to apply to one college which (at the time) had a very lenient acceptance policy. I never expected to get in, and I contemplated enlisting in the service as Plan B. But as luck would have it, two weeks later, my acceptance letter arrived in the mail. The news traveled through my body like an electric shock. – I was going to be the first in my family to go to college!! I could not wait to share the news with anyone who would listen. The casual statement of “Yeah…I’m leaving for college in a few weeks” was worked into every conversation possible.
One of those conversations took place in the brightly colored toy section of Kmart with my mom and 3rd grade teacher. There were hugs and lots of niceties as my Mom greeted the teacher who taught all 7 of us at one time or another. My Mom was proudly updating her on how all the “kids” were doing. I was waiting patiently because I knew she was saving the best news for last….that her youngest daughter (me) was heading off to college.
Proudly and slowly, she finally delivered the her news…”Oh, and did you know Nikki is heading to RI for college in a couple of weeks?”
The words seem to hang there has we awaited her response.
“How wonderful,” she said nodding her head slowly while looking at us both with a detectable look of disbelief.
She hesitated and then delivered this mood changing comment: “That’s fantastic Nikki, it’s funny, I never thought you were college material.”
Really? In 3rd grade you made that decision about me?
I distinctly remember my Mom placing her hand on my shoulder, turning her back on this educated woman and walking away without a word. There were no more niceties from my always polite Mother.
If you read my first blog post, or watched our video, you already know how fantastic my Mom is as well as the less than comfortable conditions we grew in. It was wonderful and challenging all mixed together.
What I eventually understood over time is that Ms. 3rd grade teacher had my 9 year old fate in school (temporarily) sealed. I was a free-lunch kid, didn’t raise my hand much, sat in the back of the class hoping not to be called on and rarely did my homework. What could a kid like that possibly become?
Ms. 3rd Grade Teacher was in a position to INSPIRE and DISCOVER potential. Perhaps, I wasn’t “working to my potential” because she didn’t believe I had any.
My mom and I never really spoke about it until years later. The gravity of what she said seemed to grow on me as I got older,especially as I became a parent of school aged children myself.
I am grateful to her however. When I headed off to college a few weeks after our Kmart chat, I was determined to prove that I could be college material. I didn’t know why or how I got accepted, but under the radar or not I was going to make it count.
Fortunately, I found many professors and administrators who believed in me and my potential. I am forever grateful to them and they too helped change the course of my life. They inspired me to work hard, and do things that sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. And if you do those things, your potential can actually grow and expand.
Potential is a tough one to wrap your head around. I believe that people will rise to the bar that is set for them. Some people have the ability to place their own bar and do so in a lofty way. But many will rely on those around them to do so – especially school aged children. Teachers also have the opportunity to set the bar for students. And often that bar follows them through all of their school years so where it is set is incredibly important.
My favorite story of potential is the one about this boy.
This is Michael Oher and in my opinion his story is shining example of “potential” realized when it easily could have been squandered. We sat our kids down last weekend and watched the movie “The Blindside”. It really is one of my all-time favorites and chronicles his life and how his path was forever altered by the kindness of the Tuohy Family.
This is Michael after an amazing woman (and family) intervened in his life and uncovered his potential.
I know I am sort of late to the party with the love-fest over this movie. But seeing it again reminded me of how important it is to remember that everyone has potential. Some may have to work a little harder or take a path that is less than a direct route. But it exists in all of us.
Fostering potential in others and in ourselves although difficult is one of the most important things we can do!