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Mindful Leadership: You Can Explore Your True Potential In 3 Simple Steps

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

– Anne Frank

I love the wisdom of this quote. We really do not know what our potential is even though we might think we do. Beginning in our earliest years, we have been told about our strengths and weaknesses. These assessments, given perhaps with good intentions, very often have unintended harmful results. They keep us from knowing more about our true potential. Let’s take a closer look at examples I have heard from professionals over the years.

  1. We all understand that early assessments that tell us we are not ‘good’at something can limit us from even exploring certain positions or professions. And, of course, those can hinder our ability to discover our true potential. But, negative assessments are not the only kind that can limit our potential. Kirstie was a successful physician who, in her late 40s, felt as though she needed to learn more about mindful leadership to be her best self as a physician. On retreat, she shared with me that, as a student, she was told that she had an aptitude for science and so medicine should be her profession. In fact, she explained that the written assessments, and those who had told her she should be a doctor must have been right. She had no trouble passing the exams and boards needed. And her patients loved her approach. It all seemed to be going as predicted, so why was she feeling so unhappy each morning when she left for her clinic? I asked her a simple question, “Did you want to be a doctor?” She looked away and paused. When she returned her gaze to me, tears rolling down her cheeks, she said, “no, never.”
  2. People we admire can also limit our potential. Mason told me that he was fortunate to have had a wonderful mentor when he was new to his profession. In fact, he so admired his mentor that he gave a great deal of weight to his advice when it came time to make a career move. Mason shared the details of a recent career opportunity he considered. He shared that he enjoyed the research work he was doing but he always saw himself eventually moving into a management role and had applied for a department head position. When Mason’s mentor heard about the potential move, he proceeded to share with him all the horrors of management, matching each challenge with what he believed were Mason’s personality weaknesses. He was sure that Mason would have a hard time conforming to the management model, and would likely fail. Mason, reluctantly withdrew his name from consideration but he was still wondering if he made the correct choice.

In both of these examples, we see professionals who wonder if they are living the lives they were meant to live. What about you?

Perhaps there is an example of some form of limitation in your own life. Simple statements or an assessment of you at one moment in time easily become woven into your story of yourself. Are there factors that may be limiting your capacity to love, or your ability to accomplish your dreams?

If you are ready to begin an exploration for yourself, try these simple 3 steps:

  1. Begin by sitting quietly and allowing your mind and body to settle. You can focus on your breathing to help you settle. When you are ready, reflect on this question: What are the top 5 pros and cons that describe me? These may be your words, assessment results, or ‘short stories’ others have shared with you. Write them down.
  2. As you review the list, reflect on each characteristic using these questions: if this characteristic is not true, what would be different? Is this potentially untrue characteristic holding me back from living my best life?;
  3. If you are wondering about the truthfulness of one of the characteristics you explored in Step 2, choose to take a small step that further challenge its veracity.

It takes courage to push against evaluations and advice. Listen deeply to your own wisdom. In your personal life and your professional life, it is often easier to go with what is being told to you. Ultimately, however, you may be abdicating your responsibility to live our best life. As Anne Frank said, “The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be!”