I was always going to be a ballerina. Unlike every other 6-year-old girl in a pink tutu, I was actually going to make it. The fantasy would dance through my head while I listened to Swan Lake twirling around the lounge room.
Why not me? I was bursting with potential.
I was a unique snowflake, destined for the stage. I would embody grace and the extraordinary potential of the human body.
The reality came crashing down one way or another, in the same way I kept crashing into furniture. I can’t entirely recall the moment but I do remember thinking I didn’t have the body type for it.
The rakishly thin, delicately boned porcelain doll. I was destined to embody a generously sized booty.
Dylan Moran riffs on potential: “You should stay away from your potential. You’ll mess it up! It’s potential, leave it! It’s like your bank balance— you always have much less than you think. You don’t want to find out that the most you could possibly achieve, if you harvested every screed of energy within you, that all you would get to would be maybe eating less cheesy snacks.”
The glut of posts online compelling you to ‘unlock your potential’ is enough to drive anyone into a hole to curl up and be mediocre the rest of your life.
This mysterious box buried deep within you which holds the keys to your best life.
Who wouldn’t be desperately trying to crack the code?
Last night in yoga, a dim-lit room with thunderstorm soundtrack, the teacher with the soothing voice and shaved head was telling us about our in-built search engines.
That in our brains, we have these little Googles constantly searching, ruminating, debating, contemplating.
And the practice of yoga is to be still. Silent. At rest.
I’m sitting cross-legged which is sending shooting pains up my back and I’m trying not to wriggle.
I’m listening to her words but my internal Google is spiralling out of control: that’s interesting, be still, I really need to get better at being still. Maybe I should start mediating again, that would help. I probably need to work out some way to do it, I don’t want Matilda to learn that she always needs to be busy achieving things and..what is this music anyway? Why does yoga music always have to have weird chanting in it?
I’m so conditioned to achieving, improving, that even talk of letting go and being still sends me into action-planning mode, turning it into a large-scale self-improvement project. Maybe I can wake up at 7am every day and track in my bullet journal how still I’m being then I’ll be able to see my progress.
Since becoming a Mum I feel increasingly frustrated by the unicorn of potential, now seemingly even further out of my grasp.
It’s buried under piles of dirty nappies and time lost, shimmering on the horizon while I retrace my steps looking for another sock my baby kicked off 5 kilometres ago.
There’s this German word, fernweh meaning homesickness for a place you’ve never been to. I wonder if that captures how I feel about my potential. I miss it, I haven’t reached it and yet I long to go back to it, like the heady pink tutu days when it was as bounteous as my backside.
Perhaps that maddening unicorn is always out of reach. You climb to the next rung of your potential, and hey! There’s another one. And another, and another. You reach the top, you’re literally the king of the world and there before you is another ladder.
What I’m after is contentment.
The more the days roll into months with my daughter, the more I’ve realised this is life now, it’s happening. I look into her tiny little face while she’s feeding and every now and then feel a flush of deep contentment.
I forget about my plans to study, write a book or finally start that NGO for kids who can’t read good and think, ‘if this is it, this is good.’
I want those moments to punctuate my day, not be the exception.
I don’t want someone with a megaphone shouting down my ear: YOU MUST UNLOCK YOUR POTENTIAL BEFORE YOU DIE!!
I hope my daughter explores her potential. I dearly hope she chases the unicorn, for a time.
But I will be compelling her to be still, let go, enjoy what you’ve got now, because this is life, you’re living it. Don’t wait until you reach that next rung to be content.
But try to eat less cheesy snacks.
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