By Shahrukh Moin Khan

October 20, 2020

A piece of rock on a mountain, even when perfectly motionless, is often considered dangerous. But how can it be “dangerous” when it is still? The key word to the question posed here is “potential.” Though it is stationary, it possesses gravitational potential energy by virtue of its position; it is this energy that is dangerous and can have a lot of impact.

Similarly, each of us possesses the potential to become anything that we desire—be it a singer, an actor, or a cricketer. But most of us choose to be stationary. We don’t want to challenge the status quo. Before even testing our potential, we put a tag—a loser’s tag—on ourselves and become complacent.

Let me share the story of a lady—from an orthodox, middle-class family—whom I mentored some time back. After her graduation, she started preparing for a competitive exam, took the exam for four years but in vain. As a result, she had to stay at home for four years without a job, while her batchmates moved on. She felt like a failure and regretted every decision of her life. But she did not give up. She started preparing for MBA entrance exams; even that wasn’t easy for her. She kept trying, and eventually got an interview call from a prestigious school. But with an average academic record and four long years of gap in her career, converting the call into a final admission offer was difficult; everyone felt that it was practically impossible for her to get the admission. Despite all the negativity around her, she didn’t surrender. She kept trying and got an admission in one of the most reputed business schools in India. After reaching there, she became the batch topper and bagged a lucrative job.

Even though her failures could have been a driving force, she chose her potential to lead her way. This is something that made the story of an ordinary girl extraordinary.

As I have previously mentioned: everyone has potential. Then, what stops us? What are the factors that impede us from reaching where we deserve to be? I have observed four primary reasons that lead to this hindrance.

First, and the most important, is the fear of failure. If we do a little research on this, we will find tons of people in the wrong profession. They might have the proper skill set and might also be keen on doing something, but the fear of failure forces them to choose a “safer profession.” This attitude stops them from reaching their potential.

Second is the lack of discipline. If you are not disciplined enough to dig a mine, you may live over a gold mine and still die penniless. A lot of talented people waste their potential because of their lackadaisical behaviour. As the famous saying goes—“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

The third is the lack of patience. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Everything worth appreciating takes time. Many people stop pursuing their interest if they don’t see results in a few days. Also, often people evade after short-term gains and seldom focus on long-term profits.

Fourth is the lack of guidance. Often we need someone to guide us to achieve our potential. Even if we are already x, we often need that extra dx to reach our goal. Sachin might not have been that great a cricketer if he didn’t get the guidance from Achrekar.

Achieving your true potential isn’t easy, and requires years of dedication, hard work, and patience. There are a few suggestions that might help you in your journey.

The first suggestion is to know yourself well. Often people are misguided and follow the herd mentality. You should be well aware of your interests and likings, your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, your potential. Knowing yourself helps you to set realistic targets and design your life according to your true self rather than your perceived self. This exercise won’t be easy, and you would need to introspect a lot.

The second suggestion is to plan. We all have various ambitions for ourselves, such as “I will be an actor,” “I will be a pilot,” etc. However, all these ambitions might render ineffective if one doesn’t have a meticulous plan on how to achieve it. You should have a clear idea and vision about your future actions and your plan should have realistic-but-challenging deadlines. Your plan shouldn’t just guide you in your journey but should also appreciate you in your success and motivate you in your failures.

The third is to accept failures. It is easier said than done, but it is something that differentiates winners from losers. A failure should make you question your plan, but it should not make you question your abilities or intention. You should learn from every mistake and be ready to fail every time you start. These failures not just make you more resilient but also take you a step closer to your dreams.

Fourth is to get a mentor. They don’t need to be a life coach or a baba or a professional tutor. They can be anyone—your parents, friends, or even relatives—who believes in you, knows how to guide you in your pursuit, and gives you a push when you are down. An effective support system and right guidance can play a crucial role in your journey.

The Oxford Dictionary defines potential as “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” Maybe, you too have some hidden qualities. Try to find them and maximize your potential.

Though potential, as described until now, may seem like a “fairy-tale word,” it can often be associated with lots of negative things as well.

While doing anything, generally, we consider only the most probable outcome and tend to ignore the “outliers.” We usually tend to undermine the potential of our actions. We body-shame a woman and expect her to take it as a joke or just ignore it. We don’t expect one such statement to affect the girl to an extent that she gets clinically depressed or even takes her own life. But it has the potential to do so. Any word we say, any action we do, has a potential impact much bigger than what we intend to have.

When a man leaves his house and decides to cross a closed railway crossing, thinking it to be a harmless act, there is a probability of 1/500,000 of him being hit by the train. But he ignores the potential impact that one accident can cause.

If he loses his life in an accident, not only his life is claimed but also paralyses the lives of his loved ones for days, years, or even forever. His wife loses her support system, her love, and practically a part of herself. The psyche of his children will be hurt at a tender age, haunting them for lives. Everyone in the family will be in a state of shock and will always regret the person’s decision.

Thus, one seemingly harmless decision has the potential to uproot the lives of so many individuals.

Also, your potential, does not always take you to great places. Often, people with high potential are identified as juveniles, and throughout their life, they keep pushing themselves to attain their potential. This may seem perfectly fine from a third-person perspective, but it has a severe impact on the individual’s mental well-being.

If a person has a melodious voice and a potential to be a great singer, he will be forced to be a singer irrespective of his own will. If he dares to choose a path of his choice, he will be accused of “wasting his talent.” Your potential, if not in sync with your ambitions, can lead to a difficult life.

Your potential can be your strength or your weakness. As I said, a piece of rock on a mountain has potential and that makes it dangerous but when a glass bowl is kept on a table, its potential makes it fragile.

So, identify the rocks and glass bowls in yourself and treat your potential accordingly.


A consistent academic performer and an ex-placement representative at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, Shahrukh Moin Khan has been passionately mentoring aspirants and B-School students towards achieving their goals. At Breakspace, the Education Consulting division of Partha PD, in three years, he has mentored over 3,000 students across India. Before his MBA, while pursuing BTech at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, he mentored 200 students for engineering entrance exams. Shahrukh’s love for football and cricket and his keen interest in Indian history and politics beautifully complement his critical approach towards everyday issues. His hometown is Kanpur, and he completed his secondary education at Meerut.

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