“Many aspiring artists, for example, have at some stage to deal with the harsh truth that they are merely quite good and do not have what it takes to be truly exceptional. Potential that appears unlimited to youth may look more finite when seen through more experienced eyes.
Jean-Paul Sartre denounced potential for the false comfort it gives us through thoughts of what we could have been if things had been different. For him, a person is ‘nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is’. It’s a false comfort to tell ourselves we could have done more, if circumstances had favoured us.
Sartre insists that ‘reality alone is reliable; that dreams, expectations and hopes serve to define a man only as deceptive dreams, abortive hopes, expectations unfulfilled’. To dwell on potential is to define ourselves negatively, in terms of what we are not, rather than positively, for what we are.
Potential left undeveloped is nothing more than a hypothetical ability that belongs in our dreams, not as a ghostly presence in our actual lives.“
Excerpt from The Shrink and the Sage by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro
Photo by Lisa Elmaleh, LisaElmaleh.com