In 1972, holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl delivered a powerful talk to the Toronto Youth Corps in which he offered up the most important gift we can give others: To believe in what they can be.
He said it better than I could ever write it:
“If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him (applause) it’s premature your applause you will soon know why. If we seem to be idealist and are overestimating, over rating man and looking at him that high, here above, you know what happens? We promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be idealist in a way, because then we wind up as the true, the real realist. And you know who has said this ‘if we take man as he is we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be we make him capable of becoming what he can be’ this was not my flight instructor, this was not me, this was Goethe he said this verbally. So if you don’t recognize a young man’s search for meaning, you make him worse, you make him dull, you make him frustrated, you add and contribute to his frustration.”
While Frankl was talking about nourishing the spark or will to meaning in others, I propose that it’s more important to recognize and nourish our own spark first. This “spark” is your authentic purpose, the reason you get out of bed in the morning.
So often our own spark is dulled by the expectations others have for our lives and by trying awkwardly to fit into roles that were never designed for us. We then become frustrated, discouraged, and often give in to the illusion of an easy, quick path to security and success.
In coaching hundreds of college students finding their way in a complicated, pressure-filled world, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on how to break free and truly live your potential.
It all starts with treating yourself as you can be and not as you should be.
Treat Yourself as You Can Be
Benjamin Zander, in the bestseller “The Art of Possibility” said: “How often do we stand convinced of the truth of our early memories, forgetting that they are assessments made by a child? We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and, in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks.”
Our internal narrative can be ugly. Sometimes we’re, ironically, our own biggest stumbling block to becoming who we can be.
We obsess over what we should do, who we should be, how we should be thinking. Your own liberation may lie in changing a single word; moving from should to can.
When we state what we can do and who we can be, we rip ourselves from the destructive narrative that’s been holding us back. Imagine if college students, as they were approaching graduation, asked their mentors, “What can I do with the rest of my life?”
What if companies and organizations asked, how can we do business better?
By simply eliminating should from your self-talk vocabulary today, you start thinking of your potential self that, when cultivated, will help you become who you were always meant to be.
Adopt an Abundance Mindset
I was introduced to the idea of an abundance mindset listening to Tony Robbins’ audiobook, “Awaken the Giant Within” and I haven’t been able to think the same ever since.
See, most of us live in a scarcity mindset. We are constantly thinking things like: There’s not enough money, change is dangerous, risk is bad, failure is a limitation, my career path is narrow, and I don’t have any options.
And, we make decisions based on this delusion of scarcity. We go to graduate school for things we don’t want to study because they offer job security or because someone told us to, we take bad jobs, and we spend the majority of our time “securing security” and not creating it.
As I have been starting my own speaking and consulting business, this is how I was thinking: “I am too young, I haven’t written a book, I am too inexperienced, there aren’t any clients, there isn’t any money to be made out there, and the market is too competitive.”
And, my performance and behaviors followed. I would spend days lamenting at my bad luck, my stupid choice to quit my job and pursue my speaking career, and secretly almost applied for a salaried job again for the illusion of “security.”
Then, in one instant, I switched my thinking. I started thinking: There are thousands of potential clients out there, there is an abundance of money to be made, I can write a book, I can make a living doing this.
My actions followed. My new awareness of all that was “out there” motivated me to go and get it.
Since that shift, I’ve booked double the amount of paid speaking engagements including a keynote at a Fortune 500 company, become a blogger for the Huffington Post, and am working on a book – all while being fully engaged in teaching at a university and earning my Ph.D. Because these are the ways I want to be spending my time and earning a living, I feel fully engaged and almost a moral responsibility to relentlessly pursue it.
What can you do? Who can you be?
It’s all out there, now go get it.