Dear Man Repeller,
I’m afraid I’m never going to amount to anything — that I’ll never become who I’m meant to be. Help.
I recently saw a dystopian thriller starring Emma Watson about what would happen if a tech giant were to rule the world. In Watson’s interview to work at said tech giant (think Facebook, but evil), she cited unfulfilled potential as her biggest fear. The movie wasn’t great but that comment was; I adopted the principle as my own and have since used it to describe the self-imposed limitations that cripple me on at least three occasions. Something about the simplicity of these words that so poignantly articulated a feeling I have been dancing around for, I don’t know, 28 years, made me feel understood. I hope it provides some version of a reprieve for you, too.
To some degree, we all fear unfulfilled potential. We call it various things: fear of not becoming who we are meant to be, escaping the stereotypes of the identities imparted upon us or relentlessly attempting to succeed, but the crux of what we’re saying when we talk about these synonyms for self-improvement is entirely imbued with this notion that we could always be better, that we’re not doing enough to be the best — that unfulfilled potential is gently knocking at all of our doors. Just recognizing this was huge for me. It gave me a more pointed anxiety to work against.
Here’s the other thing, though. It is wildly uncommon that someone who worries about not amounting to anything actually ends up amounting to nothing. Do you really believe that if you were destined for nothingness you’d spend much time thinking about it? What even is nothingness? The important thing for you to remember is something that Diane von Furstenberg said to me two years ago: when you doubt your power you give power to your doubts. Those fears and doubts have an uncanny dexterity to act like a cancer that kiboshes your dreams. But you steer the ship, Scared! It’s your fucking rocket.
This brings me to my final question:
Who, other than you, is to say who (or what) you are meant to be? To think that your agency runs independent of the decisions that you make, that the company you keep, the work you choose as meaningful and the words that come out of your mouth are out of your jurisdiction of control seems to indicate that you’re not yet aware of your humanly power. We are all authors, you know. We write the stories of our lives and in doing so, either pen them in the ink of love or fear. If we’re writing out of love, we’re building in the direction that our dreams are willing to take us, but if we’re writing in fear, we’re constantly focused on what we don’t want instead of what we do. This focus, of course, only brings us closer to what we don’t want, so I encourage you to tap into your power as an author. Forget about who you’re not meant to be. Who are you meant to be? No one can answer that question, or act it out, but you. Dream it out! You have nothing to lose. And if you just can’t shake that half-empty glass of your potential on your night table, drain that shit and refill it. Simple as that.
Feature photo by Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images.