The Paralysis Inherent In Potential

Flashback to the day my son considered the possibility he could beat some other competitors

I have been ruminating quite a bit lately about what I want for myself and my life going forward. Our youngest will launch this fall, which means my day job as stay-at-home parent will be coming to an end. I have no plans to take on a full-time job, so the stay-at-home part will remain. I will, however, be doing a lot less parenting: less driving, fewer appointments, fewer obligations. All of this is good news. We’re so excited for Luke and his journey, and I am excited to have a little space in my life, time to focus on my own journey.

Figuring out what direction I want that journey to head has been a bit daunting. I’m in an enviable position. I am (or will be this fall) in the possession of both time and means to make choices and changes in my life. This is within reason, of course. I still have a husband and a home and life obligations. My sons will still want input and help from time to time. We have means, but we are not millionaires. While there are some funds for some small, down-to-earth projects (like self-publishing a memoir or book, for example), I will not be able to charter a yacht and sail the globe. Still, even with the modest detractors, there is a fair amount of freedom here for me to tap into potential growth enterprises.

During therapy today, though, I hit upon something I think has been holding me back, and that is the word “potential.” When I think about potential, I think of phrases like “reaching your full potential” or “limiting your potential.” So potential is something that can be squandered, lost, abandoned. It is something you can strive for and miss. As a parent, when I consider my sons’ gifts, I am lulled into wanting them to use them to their greatest potential. But what kind of stress does that put on them? When people say to me, “You should use your writing skills to write a book,” I experience potential paralysis. Because the potential is there for me to do it, I worry that I might fail at it or, worse, I might be so fearful of the potential for failure that I decide not to attempt it at all. Potential, without the self-esteem or confidence in one’s own abilities or the sheer bravado to rise above any obstacle, can freeze you in your tracks.

So, I decided today to eliminate the term “potential” from my vocabulary because it is too much for me at this point. I have decided to replace the notion of potential with the notion of possibility. Possibility is positive. If you are planning a day at the beach on Friday and the meteorologist says there is a potential for rain that day, you might reschedule your plans based on a desire to avoid a ruined day. But if that meteorologist says there is a possibility of rain that day, it sounds like it could go either way, like you might catch a break and the day will be mostly sunny or have only a slight chance for rain. Possibility contains hope. Potential contains burden or weight. Or at least that is how it feels in my mind.

Let’s take my focus on creating a writing career for myself as an example. If I look at this goal as something I have to do so I don’t squander my potential or all the hard work I’ve done working on my writing skills, including earning a master’s degree in writing, the burden to turn out something impressive to others is set in motion. But what if I focus instead on the possibilities available to me if I pursue my writing with a more focused agenda? If I acknowledge there is a possibility I could, with greater dedication to my craft, create a highly trafficked blog site or pen an enjoyable memoir, I am free from the burden of obligation. I am simply moving confidently in the direction of my dreams, unencumbered by expectation. Possibility (I could) takes the place of potential (I should).

I suppose it all depends where you are coming from. If you were fortunate enough to be raised by loving, supportive parents who cherished you unconditionally, then potential might not feel like a scary term to you. Perhaps your parents raised you to believe in the power of your potential and that is a guiding force leading you towards success. If you were, however, raised as I was without acknowledgment or attention paid to your skills and abilities, you might not have enough belief in yourself yet to champion your potential. You might only be able to muster the courage to believe you could possibly achieve your dreams. Deciding you have many possible paths might feel as empowering to you as believing you have high potential to be successful because of your skills.

What motivates you more? The power of your potential or the pull of your possibility?

The Almighty Queen of Awkwardness Retains Her Crown…for now

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My introvert view from the safety as extroverts chat upstairs

I am an introvert. This is a well-documented, incontrovertible fact. For years, I have used my status as introvert to avoid uncomfortable social situations because, well, they’re uncomfortable. This is because I am the most awkward woman who has ever lived. I am certain of this. You only think you are more awkward than I am. You are wrong. Through therapy, I have been working to overcome some of the self-imposed boundaries that have arisen because of my social ineptitude. You see, through my claim to the title Almighty Queen of Awkwardness I claimed a second, slightly lower title, the Self-Ordained Princess of Seemingly Legitimate Excuses by which to Avoid Entanglements. My titles are cumbersome in more ways than one.

One place I have decided to work on for my personal growth is at our sons’ school. The boys have been at Denver Academy nearly two full years now. In that time, we have met and spoken more than once with only two other sets of parents. Two. In two years. This is what happens when an introvert marries another introvert. The only reason we have two as our number is because these parents reached out to us. Otherwise, we would be sitting at zero new acquaintances.

Last Friday, the school held a fundraiser, a ping-pong tournament dubbed The Paddle Battle. We attended this last year with friends because we didn’t want to show up alone. During the ping-pong battle, my friend, Lynne, and I huddled in a corner near the lost-and-found box swilling wine. She was courageous enough to talk to another family. Meanwhile, I held my plastic wine cup like it was anchoring me to earth while I avoided eye contact by staring into the box of found hoodies, water bottles, and a lonely shoe. This year I decided to challenge myself by actively participating in the actual playing of the ping pong.

With a glass of wine consumed, I met my opponent and stepped up to the table. I worked hard to avoid complete decimation. A couple times during the game play, I attempted to start a conversation with the gentleman, only to be met with no response. I realized eventually he couldn’t hear me over the noise in the atrium and decided to be okay with the fact that I was talking across a table to a person who had no idea was talking. Nothing awkward about that. Meanwhile, I continued my nervous, audible-only-to-myself chatter the entire game as I chased the ball. The game ended with my five-point loss, a respectable showing for someone without table-tennis prowess. The gentleman approached me for a sportsmanlike handshake. I was holding the ball in my right hand and, for some inexplicable reason, instead of moving the ball to my left hand for a proper handshake, I extended my left hand. This led to a generally weird situation in which neither one of us knew the protocol. He at last grabbed my left hand for a cursory shake while I mumbled something about needing to put the ball somewhere safe for the next players. As he walked off to put his name in for the next round, I imagined he was looking forward to playing someone more athletically skillful and socially adept. I did a mental face palm for being such a colossal dork and went for another glass of wine to console myself.

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While some battle, some execute a normal handshake

Being a classic overthinker, I’ve reflected on that evening a few times since Friday night, endeavoring to convince myself that perhaps I didn’t come off as a complete moron. After all, every person feels awkward occasionally. It’s a universally human experience. Most of us spend at least some time second guessing words we’ve uttered or actions we’ve taken when we’ve felt out of our element. It’s possible my opponent found my handshake foible more charming than ridiculous or might not have registered it at all. And, in the end, why does it matter when I improved upon my actions from last year by stepping out of my boundaries and participating rather than spectating? Get over yourself.

I am working hard to bring balance to the Force in my life by acknowledging that while I have a few less-than-impressive qualities, my good qualities are weightier. Last Friday, I took a step forward. Maybe the experience wasn’t as smooth as I had expected, but that’s okay. Baby steps, right? When Luke graduates in 2022 and throws off the confines of high school, I might too graduate, at last setting aside my mantle as Almighty Queen of Awkwardness for a more appropriate title. Maybe by then I will know myself only as the Almighty Queen of Awesomeness. If I’m going to envision myself as queen, perhaps it should be as the queen of something great.