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How to achieve your potential when you don't know what you want to achieve?

No matter what motivation or support is thrown at me I seem to be stuck in a rut in life. I was predicted top grades and I have an unquenchable thirst for learning, yet I have never lived up to this potential and now at 21 I feel myself losing direction compared to my peers around me.

I'm interested in how and when you found your direction in life, as well as an example of an experience (or multiple if you wish) that you've had, which helped to uncover or discover this direction.

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    Jun 17 2011: Hi Jonny
    I'm from Leeds too by the way!
    I think Nietzsche said something on the lines of you can't get what you want until you know what it is, but you don't know what you want until you've found it.

    My advice is this: Do something, even if not exactly what you dream of doing. Study some more; go volunteer for charity work overseas; take a crappy junior job but in an interesting(ish) industry (like jouice-boy at an internet start-up, fruit-peeler at a movie company etc). Two or three of these experience might go nowhere, but you'll meet someone or have an idea and something amazing will happen in the end. What you must not, i repeat not, do is do nothing. Never do nothing.

    Some of my businesses have been successful, more (well, it's about 50.50) have not, but some of the less successful ones begat the more successful ones. You don't marry the first girl you meet, but you might marry a girl your ex introduces you to. I don't think often anyone is struck by inspiration for what they really want to do, but bit by bit the jigsaw comes together and you figure out a plan.

    My other advice is that I'm note sure anyone really has a plan, but the happiest and most successful folks are super-opportunistic and take advantage of opportunities as they arrive, as opposed to go looking for opportunity,
    • Jun 17 2011: Hi James, it's always nice to hear from somebody who is a fellow Leodensian! This is sound advice and I guess even when you know something, it helps to hear it from the mouth of somebody who isn't your grandma! I guess the fact that my mind is so active, combined with being a total cynic hasn't done me any favours!

      Thanks for your thoughts and keep posting!
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    Jun 17 2011: How does one even truly know their true potential?

    How do people judge potential?

    I guess, you just got to keep trying stuffs. When you hit a wall, you'll know your limits. Choosing whether you'll break through that limit or let it stand in your way is a different matter.
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      Jun 17 2011: Hello Dean, we all have great potential, you have a great potential!

      You have a great intellect - even scientists confirm that when one is judged intelligent, we're still only using a paltry part of our brain.

      You are a person of good will. Your humanism and your intrinsic ability to do what is good and right is in your core nature. Scientists also confirm that the western hemisphere of our brain enable us to do this. Our connection to an inner dimension of existence is still a fringe of science but nonetheless our spiritual cultures seem to be knowledgable about our social duty to do good.

      I think it's a good idea to read the autobiographies or the TED talks of great people we have around us today and we will see the great potential that we all have. This can also ignite our purpose and vision that will enable us to focus on single avenue of interest as J.Hoyes noted. This is exactly one of the key premise of TED and you being a Tedster.

      The only limit of our potential is the limiting belief we have of ourselves or the opinion of others that we may be unknowingly consenting to. There is a great dynamic of our true inner worth and the achievement of our greatest potential that makes our lives a great adventure. http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower
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    Jun 17 2011: I suppose not having too many options allows one to focus fully on a single avenue of interest.

    Are you concerned that you will become a "jack of all trades but master of none"? bear in mind that that's also the definition of a trainee polymath. I guess the archetypal Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci, must have been "a bit good" at everything he tried before he became brilliant at everything he did.

    A related talk about limiting your options for a happier life, could be: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html
    • Jun 17 2011: Hi there,
      I guess that is one of my fears and I can only aspire to be as great as Leonardo !! I watched that Barry Schwartz talk the other day and it really did strike a chord with my own views on choice and how it can be horribly difficult to choose between the many paths that lie ahead in life for everyone.

      Thanks for posting!
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    Jun 18 2011: Sometimes, feeling like we have to live up to other people's expectations of ourselves can lay a lot of pressure on us and cause us a lot of stress; we may be scared to disappoint therefore we simply don't do anything incase we don't succeed.

    It's human nature to dislike uncertainty when really, when you embrace it and stop resisting it, unbelievable events can unfold in your life.

    What I'd say to you is, relax, it's okay not to know, it doesn't mean anything about you, your abilities or your character. Do not compare yourself with others; no one can succeed at being you better than yourself. Start thinking about the things you like to do; be bold and courageous, curious and adventerous, be excited about all the wonderful experiences yet to happen. Now stop thinking and start doing, even if you don't know how. Be, do, have; who you are being gives you what you do, and what you do gives you what you have. We have a tendency to think it's the other way round-when I have more money I will buy a house and then I'll be happy- but some day maybe never comes or it can take a really long time!

    Be willing to try different things and be willing to make mistakes, in fact, make as many as you can! There is always something to learn. Be open to change, have a plan B, C, D...as many as you like.

    I'm sure you can already think of many things you'd like to do. What is actually stopping you from doing them? Is it a limiting belief? An excuse(no money, no time, etc)? If you can find an answer to this it will help you get resourceful.

    Your life is a white canvas, just go out there and start painting all over it!

    All the best
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    Jun 17 2011: How are you on "living in the moment'? Do you find yourself wishing you were doing something else you love when you're already doing something you love?
  • Jun 17 2011: Well Jonny, the definition of potential is capable of being or becoming so you don't neccisarly have to know what you want to be
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    Jun 16 2011: Hi Jonny! try to stimulate our key power. Understanding this key power is a deep understanding of ourselves and others. If we have not yet done so, we summon the deep convictions of our upbringing or the example of great people (read their autobiographies or see their TED talks) then see the state of our world around us or around the world and call that strong passion and vision that will help transform ourselves and our world. This strong purpose and vision gives us great courage and inspiration and will transcend all the little worries of our lives and devote more of our energy to bring real happiness to ourselves and to our world. http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower