THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Kindness: It's the greatest sign of 'potential'

The idea that we somehow have a certain amount of potential we must live up to is a crock. People who say they are not living up to their potential don't understand what living means.

Life is hard. We each probably have some fundamental goals, even if we don't think of them consciously. First of all, getting up in the morning is very hard. It is fundamentally an act of optimism. Because surely you have already realized that most days are not full of happiness. They are full, but with something else. Yet we still get out of bed every day, thinking the day is going to be good. That's a big deal, a huge leap of faith.

The next big goals we have are the spiritual kind: be good, be kind, treat people with respect. You probably don't write these on your to-do list, but now that you read them, surely you're thinking, "Oh, yeah."

So already, life's very full. For example, I just took the red eye home from San Francisco. But if one lives in a little town like Madison, Wisconsin, as I do, there really is no red eye. There's a traumatic awakening at 5am and then an 8am flight to Wisconsin. By the time I get to my gate, treating people with respect takes pretty much everything that's left of my potential.

Living up to your potential is not crossing off everything on your to do list on time, under budget. Or canonizing your ideas in a book deal. Really, no one cares. You're not on this earth to do that. You're on this earth to be kind.

And then you have to earn a living.

It's no coincidence that everyone who's bitching that they're not living up to their potential is talking about how they should be more successful at work. Because "living up to potential" is really just code for "not being recognized as the talented genius I am."

"I was so good in high school– why am I not catapulting up the corporate ladder?"  The answer is that most of getting what you want at work is about having social skills, and school doesn't measure that.

So if you insist on talking about living up to your potential, the reason you're not doing it, most likely, is that you're not being kind enough at work. Wanna win the rat race? Be as nice, as respectful, and as honest with yourself as you can. Because you can't be honest with other people if you're not honest with yourself.

What can you do if you think you're living below your potential?

1. Recognize that it's delusional. You are who you are, and you should just be you. Have realistic, meaningful goals for your life, like kindness and engagement. Be optimistic. Be connected.

2. Recognize that the world isn't a race. A race assumes that everyone has an inborn ability to reach a personal best. If you stop racing, you stop wondering what that inborn ability is. "Living up to one's potential" is always relative. You're really talking about your ability to kick everyone else's butt at something. It's not a pleasant thing to say. When you stop looking at the world as a competition, you can stop wondering why you're not coming in first place.

3. Recognize that you sound like your mother. "Living up to your potential" is a phrase from a grade-school report card, elementary school-speak. It's your parents saying you need to do more homework. It's your mother saying "You're a genius. Why don't you get straight As?" In almost every case when someone says, "You're not living up to your potential," the proper answer is, "So what?"

It's always someone trying to tell you that the thing you should contribute to this world is something other than kindness.