A bird does not achieve its highest potential inside its shell
By Matshona Dhliwayo
“I want to be the best. I want to be the greatest. I want to be immortalized,” an exuberant young man confided in my father. “But, I don’t know how,” he gasped, frustrated. I remember my father smiling down at him, seeing a younger version of himself; he said, “Son, if you aim to achieve your highest potential, all of your dreams and more will come true.”
I was ten, but the words stuck with me. At a tender age, I had found what I believed to be my calling. Since then, not a day has passed that I have not done at least one thing to achieve my highest potential. Below are ten tips on how you can too.
1. Read good books. We come into the world full of potential, but virtually void of wisdom. To fulfill your potential, you are going to have to study those who came before you. Reading books is the quickest and simplest way of acquiring knowledge. What took someone a lifetime to discover will only take you an hour to learn.
2. Associate with people who are smarter than you. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. It is the intelligent, not the popular, who will benefit you on life’s journey. When you surround yourself with clever people, you have a board of advisors that you don’t have to pay for. Each time you are faced with a problem, they can help you solve it; and even if they cannot, you both can for “Two minds are better than one.”
3. Find your calling. A hammer is most effective when hitting nails, and least effective when shoveling dirt. You too are least effective when doing something you’re not called to, but most efficient when doing something you’re born to do. Hence to achieve your highest potential, focus your highest energies on your highest calling. It is in doing this that you will earn your highest rewards.
4. Sharpen your talents. If you do not sharpen your axe, it will take twice the same amount of time to cut down the same amount of trees. Likewise, to succeed in your calling, hone your skills and talents. Only then can you produce your best work and achieve your highest potential.
5. Develop thick skin. When pursuing your highest potential, there will always be doubters, naysayers, backbiters, and haters, all of which will oppose you, for your success will be a blunt reminder of their failure. If you give into their scornful remarks and criticisms, you will never go higher than the bar they have set for you. Use all of the arrows they hurl at you to build your fortress and you will not only rise to your highest potential, but rise inevitably, to greatness.
6. Give back. What you pour into the world will be poured back into you. For this reason, it is in your best interest to do good; to help those who help you, help those who don’t help you, and even better, help those who can’t help you. The more you give the more you get, and the more you get the more you should give. From the mind comes great works, from the heart comes extraordinary works, and from the soul comes remarkable works. The heart and soul shrink and expand in proportion to one’s use of them. If you do not give back, it is therefore unlikely that you will ever achieve your highest potential.
7. Take care of your mind. The heart is the wellspring of life, but it is in your mind that you experience reality. The heart is the door to existence, and the mind is the key: thoughts are stored in it, actions are contemplated in it, and destinies are realized in it. Take care of your mind and you take care of your potential. Your highest actions spring from your highest thoughts.
8. Take care of your body. You could have all of the riches in the world, but if you don’t have health, you are poor. It is the body that comes into contact with the world: the hands that feel, the eyes that see, the ears that hear and the feet that move. If you are a sprinter, you will therefore need your legs to be at their best; if you are a painter, you will need your hands; if you are a musician, you will need your ears; and if you are a politician, you will need your tongue. Whatever you want to achieve in life will require some body part. Taking care of your body consequently takes care of you.
9. Take care of your soul. You are a spirit housed in a body. Your soul, not your mind or body, is your true essence. When you enrich your inner man your inner man enriches you. When the soul is whole everything else is inevitably whole.
10. Improve daily. To achieve your highest potential, make daily improvements mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. If you were walking today, tomorrow jog; if you were jogging today, tomorrow sprint. If you were sprinting today, tomorrow soar. Small improvements eventually add up to big achievements.