7 Unexpected Reasons You’re Not Living Up to Your Potential

by Feb 10, 2016Defining Success40 comments

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

When you were a kid, you knew you’d do something amazing one day. Maybe nothing so grandiose as curing cancer (although you didn’t rule it out). But you’d be respected and known throughout your field. You’d look with satisfaction and pride at your work, whatever it was, and know you’d made a tiny dent in the universe.

But it just hasn’t happened and you’re not sure why.

You’re working hard, really hard actually. But year after year goes by, and that next level of influence and impact doesn’t get any closer. And you’re about to give up on the dream all together.

I get it. Teachers and family frequently told me, “You’re going to be great someday.” They meant to be encouraging, but as I got older (and discovered how hard it is to be “great”), I started feeling like I was behind where I was supposed to be in life. It made me anxious that I wasn’t living up to the potential everyone else seemed to see in me. Why wasn’t I celebrity yet? Why did I still feel ordinary and average? Wasn’t I supposed to be further along professionally by now?

I worked on that anxiety for a number of years, redefining success for myself and focusing on creating the life I wanted to live. That was good psychologically, but I was still struggling to actually achieve my goals … until last year.

Last year was a pivotal one for me in terms of personal and professional growth. My business grew by leaps and bounds, allowing me to increase the amount I contribute to the family finances 4-fold. During the same time period, I embraced long-term healthy eating habits and started exercising 2-3 times per week, every week. I even took the entire month of June off, going back to England to see all our favorite faces and places.

I’d never felt so good about what I was doing, how I was doing it, and the impacts I was having. The anxiety and doubt that plagues overachievers like me was mostly quiet.

It felt like I was stepping into my own greatness, a greatness that already existed, rather than trying to achieve it.

And when I did that, I unexpectedly hit a hidden tipping point that made everything I was trying to accomplish a lot easier.

The conventional advice on success largely holds us back. Here are 7 reasons you’re still not where you want to be in life, and how to (finally) arrive.

Reason #1: You’re stuck in the superhero myth

From an early age, we’re taught to succeed on our own merits. Getting help on the test, after all, is cheating. And only one person can win the award or snag the promotion.

But at some point I realized living up to your potential didn’t mean you had to figure everything out on your own.

Pretty much every professional athlete or singer invests in a coach. If people who were performing at their top of their game and were world-renowned experts in their field saw benefits in hiring a coach, what could they do for me? So I hired a business coach and a personal trainer, and both accelerated my progress far beyond my expectations.

I swore I would never be without a coach again when it came to something really important to my life goals. Independence is overrated. (Want a coach yourself? I might be able to help.)

Reason #2: You’re overwhelmed by the non-essential

I’m not just talking about spending time scrolling through Facebook or watching too much television. The problem is you’re too busy to see the important work you’re hiding from.

Maybe the important work scares you. Maybe you don’t know how to do what you know you need to do.

What my experience taught me was that even high achievers waste a ton of time (and feel overwhelmed) by trying to simply muscle their way to success.

When you force yourself to slow down, it’s easier to see what’s working and what is a waste of time. Regularly schedule time to pull yourself out of your to-do list and get perspective on what you really want and the best way to get it from a range of options.

Reason #3: You’re too focused on the prize

We’re hardwired to get pleasure from external rewards, but it’s dangerous (and all too easy) to let validation become your driving force. When the balance between your extrinsic and intrinsic motivation gets out of whack, you can find yourself pursuing goals and outcomes you never personally intended.

Recent research also suggests an overdose of extrinsic motivation can have long-term negative effects on motivation, persistence, and performance—snuffing out the enjoyment from activities that once interested you.

Another key to my business success this past year was paying attention to the activities that brought me the most joy, and focusing on them. Even if you’re not an entrepreneur calling the shots in your own business, most jobs have different components to the work. Maybe that means spending more time solving problems, creating personal connections, or digging into the data. Whatever it is, making sure you’re getting regular doses of work that lights you up is the surest way to get both satisfaction and success.

Reason #4: You’re neglecting your most important asset

Last year, I did something that felt pretty radical for an overachiever like me: I made my health and well-being my number one priority. That decision was partly driven by my diabetes diagnosis, but overhauling my diet, exercise and sleep routines has done a lot more than reverse my blood sugar.

I expected to have more energy (and I do), but what really surprised me was my increased grit and resilience. My emotions were more even keeled and instead of being depressed by life’s inevitable setbacks, I saw them as a challenge to try again.

Jonathan Fields once told me, “If you’re the kind of person who thinks you don’t have time to exercise, you’re exactly the person who needs it most.” He was right, and that applies across the board when it comes to self-care. These days, I frame my health and well-being as a duty and obligation. It turns out that, as an overachiever, duty is a lot easier for me to stay committed to than the general idea of health, as good as that idea is.


Reason #5: You’re too biased towards action

You’ve probably heard that the saying, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The idea is that if you want to take things to the next level, you’re going to need a different strategy from the one that got you where you are today.

But that’s hard to wrap your mind around for a couple of reasons. First, we’ve been rewarded for the strategy we’ve already pursued. It’s familiar and we know it works—why change? Second, finding a new strategy often takes time—it requires brainstorming and discussing and experimenting. During that time, it can feel like you aren’t doing anything because you aren’t producing any concrete results. And that makes you uncomfortable.

Strategy setting involves taking stock of where you are, where you want to go, the pros and cons of the various options that will get you there, and the obstacles that could derail you if you aren’t careful. By its very nature, it’s messy. But it’s also one of the highest value activities you can engage in, because if you don’t understand what will move the needle, you’ll either spin your wheels or waste time on dead ends.

Reason #6: You’re trying to replicate someone else’s success

Everyone has talents, but not everyone uses and nurtures them. The biggest reason? People tend to take their natural talents for granted. So much so, you may not even realize what they are.

For example, like many early entrepreneurs, I thought I’d quit my job and create an online business. I’m a pretty decent writer, so creating an internet business centered around my blog seemed like a no-brainer. For years I did just that, but with decidedly average results.

It turned out my real superpower wasn’t internet marketing, but my ability to connect with people one-on-one and help bring clarity and structure to their problem-solving. My business struggled for years because I thought I needed to replicate other people’s strategies for entrepreneurial success. When I focused on my unique strengths, progress toward my goals felt practically inevitable.

Reason #7: You’re dull (well, someone had to tell you)

You’ve heard the adage that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” It turns out that saying is true and scientists have the brain scans to prove it. Research shows that engaging in playful activities actually changes the structure of your brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, which plays a strong role in regulating emotions, making plans, and solving problems.

Play is not something you do when you’ve checked off your to-do list or once you retire. Play is about momentarily suspending the rules and responsibility that can weigh us down and make us think more narrowly than we need to. Play is the mother of creativity and innovation. Incorporate more play time into both your personal and professional life and you’ll reveal opportunities that have previously eluded you.

Creating the life you always knew you were capable of isn’t easy, but with these 7 tips, it should never be a chore.