One of the biggest human tragedies to both watch and experience is the unfulfillment of potential. Someone who was seemingly destined for greatness but managed to throw their life away. On the flip side, it is incredible and uplifting to watch someone who seemingly had no potential suddenly show the world what they’re made of and go above and beyond what anyone expected.

Most of us lie somewhere in the middle. We aren’t completely throwing our lives away, but we’re not exactly fulfilling our potential day in, day out, either. This is comfortable middle ground for some but for those who really want to maximise this one life, it’s not enough. And it probably shouldn’t be enough.

In order to fulfil your potential, you first need to see what it is. This doesn’t mean that you scamper around for hidden talents that you might have or that you start learning a new instrument, it simply means you look in the mirror and see you for who you are. You are a human being with all of the potential for achieving your wildest dreams, should you only believe that you can. If you can’t envision your own greatness or if you compare yourself to others, you can never reach your potential.

There is a story about an eagle that might help solidify this idea:

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we’re chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. 

Fulfilling your potential not only comes from self-belief, it comes from manifesting the right environment that you can thrive in. If you are an eagle who surrounds yourself with chickens who tell you that you are a chicken too, you are going to start believing it.

That first story comes from Anthony de Mello’s incredible book ‘Awareness‘. The second is also a part of the same book and tells a story of a lion who was in a similar situation to the eagle, but managed to break free from his environment and self-imposed restrictions:

There’s a famous story about the lion who came upon a flock of sheep and to his amazement found a lion among the sheep. It was a lion who had been brought up by the sheep ever since he was a cub. It would bleat like a sheep and run around like a sheep. The lion went straight for him, and when the sheep-lion stood in front of the real one, he trembled in every limb. And the lion said to him, “What are you doing among these sheep?” And the sheep-lion said, “I am a sheep.” And the lion said, “Oh no you’re not. You’re coming with me.” So he took the sheep-lion to a pool and said, “Look!” And when the sheep-lion looked at his reflection in the water, he let out a mighty roar, and in that moment he was transformed. He was never the same again.

A similar transformation awaits you, should you have the courage to look in the reflection of the water and realise who you truly are and what you are truly capable of.