I always heard this when I was growing up. Even if I was first in my class, many of the teachers would tell me that I was not "living up to my potential." I guess I knew it to be true, but I kept thinking, "What more do they want of me?"

Now I know.

It all came so easily to me, compared to some of my classmates. I'd finish homework quickly and be looking for trouble to get into. That's what boys do, isn't it? In fact, there's no telling how many friends of mine have half-ass jobs right now because I coerced them into joining me in my Great American Fuck-off.

I got some of them in serious trouble one night by suggesting that we throw a brick through a teacher's window (at her home) because she'd done some minor thing which pissed me off. There were 5 of us in the car. I threw the brick, but all of us damn near got kicked out of school and put in jail. It was entirely my idea.

Now it troubles me to see this in some of you. So much potential; so little concern. For others. The world is your oyster and it revolves around the pearl that is you. Doesn't it?

You know, I can tell you that your outlook will change. Something is going to hurt you real bad one day. It will make you think again about the way you treat others. I don't know when that day will be, but each day that you go along your current path of acting as if you are the center of the universe, the more it's going to hurt.

You won't listen. (Maybe someone will.) Neither did I. . . when that lovely English teacher in the 11th grade looked me right in the eye and said, "You could be anyone you want to be. Are you listening to me?"

I wasn't then.

I am now.

As a kid, I too was told I was never living up to my potential. If I didn't like a test, I would mock it. I remember labeling a sex ed diagram of a woman's body with the Rideau Canal instead of Birth Canal and the labia as peach slices. I hated my teachers. I used to pretend to smoke my ball point pens and did not hesitate to make fun of them. I came close to failing a few years, but they had to pass me through the system due to high math grades and high marks on aptitude tests.

One teacher said to me "Si tu continue comme ca, tu vas te noyer!" Which, translated from the French, literally means If you keep that attitude, you will drown. I am pretty sure it is a colloquial expression for you will fail. At the time it didn't faze me at all.

Years later, I dropped out of college, couldn't pay rent, couldn't hold down a job and spent a lot of time in my small room feeling sorry for myself. I thought This is it. I am drowning. I cleaned up my act and found a new respect for authority. I went back to school and focussed on the proscribed curriculum, not even thinking of slipping joke answers on any of my tests.

Was I living up to my potential? No. I was suffocating. I became strong with technical details, but almost everything else suffered. Instead of relying on myself, I would wonder what would the professor do in each case. Those were bleak days.

So, I would say living up to your potential does not have to do with listening and trusting authority. The *Fuck You* instinct can be a good one. Living up to your potential is about working hard and building yourself up towards something great. It is about recognizing when you can use authority as a tool for what you want to do and when they are nothing but a barrier.

Yes, I too must admit that teachers have told me the same thing. (Aren't teachers cruel?) But in my case, I always felt that everyone else didn't live up to their potential, and that inhibited my own development. I was one of those high-maintenence kids requiring a lot of attention. If I didn't get attention, I couldn't function as well.

However, the attention I required isn't like what you might think. All I required from the people around me when I was younger was opportunity and challenge. I felt as if the teachers were patronizing me and my art work. I would draw certain pictures to perfection and got bored while/after doing it. For some reason, pictures I had completed were always pinned outside the classroom in the hallways.

I also felt as though I could have done better in so many subjects. But unfortunately, I'm referring to subjects that are not offered in East York's elementary school cirriculum. Math was a no-brainer, Art was as natural to me as breathing, and English only takes time. The choirs, the plays, all bored me to death. I felt that I was not living up to my own potential. And I blamed the state of the world. A superiority complex at age 7 sounds unthinkable, doesn't it? Well, it was me.

The Cult of Potential

In societies that worship and revere their ancestors, the death of the aged is a tragedy. In more modern, progressive cultures, the death of a youth is considered to be worse.


The greatest curse that can be hurled at you in school is that you are not living up to your potential.


In modern (post-WWII) American culture, there is no greater sin than wasting potential. This results in a terrible double bind for anyone who is not a privileged, compulsive overachiever. The greatest problem is, your potential is measured, not by your true aptitude and attitude, but by someone else's perception, what they feel you are capable of. Sometimes this is based on standardized tests, sometimes on school records, but most often on the subjective judgements of your teachers and your parents.

It is no longer sufficient to do your best. It is now required to do the best that they think you can do.

The sword of potential cuts both ways. Many people, especially in the last twenty years, have been diagnosed and/or medicated for a variety of "disabilities" (from dyslexia to ADD to the new fashionable syndrome-of-the-moment, Aspergers). This is not to deny the struggles and sometimes amazing feats of people genuinely afflicted. But when a syndrome becomes a catch-all for anyone who doesn't slot perfectly into the system, it not only demeans and diminishes people overcoming their PC euphemism, it saddles the unconventional with lowered expectations.

So you can either be doomed by too much, or damned by too little. There is no cure, not as long as your imaginary achievements are more important than your real ones.

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