Defining “Potential” and Learning to Grow

Disclaimer: The following discussion may contain spoilers from “Dream High“, the Korean drama.

You often hear “You’ve got a lot of potential” or “I see potential in you”, but it’s hard to actually qualify and quantify potential in a way that you could describe to someone else. When looking for a good candidate for a position, employers often want to see your potential, but it’s hard to present it in such a way that accurately describes who you are. This search for potential is why we spend hours making resumes, trying to draw up as many past experiences as possible to make us more appealing, but it’s difficult at times when every achievement is scrutinized by the jeering faces of society and every mistake is amplified by the constant need for perfection.

Potential, by definition, is possibility, one’s capability to become something else. It’s your ability to improve in the future and fill the spot you were hired or selected for. But how can offer an employer a prediction of your future capabilities? The human mind wavers, changes, and adapts to oncoming situations – there is no sure way to predict where you will be in a year, in five years, and so on unless you happened to have psychic abilities or a good sense of premonition. So, how exactly, do you demonstrate to a complete stranger your competence and ability to become something else?

I never expected to learn the answer through watching a Korean drama, let alone one that involves a school of pop star students. It was an unexpected slice of life, one I thoroughly enjoyed. In “Dream High”, I found a sense of maturity that wasn’t forced and seemed genuine enough to touch my heart. When the students in the drama were struggling to show their potential in a promotional video of themselves, Kang Oh Hyuk, their teacher suggested they look to their past instead of to their future when thinking of what they have to offer. It struck me as being awfully clever as it’s something that’s applicable to everyday life. We don’t know how well we will fare in future situations, but we know how we’ve changed from the experiences in our past. We know who we once were and upon comparison with our present selves, we can demonstrate growth, change, and maturation. And because were capable of change, we will continue to be capable of change – and that, is the promise of potential.

I suppose that is why the most effective resumes showcase what you have learned from each past experience rather than just a list of what you have done and of all the achievements you have been recognized for. The ability to adapt is far more valuable than current expertise (although the latter is often a bonus). The ability to continue learning and continue growing isn’t something you are necessarily taught. I believe it’s a perspective, a state of mind – it was the barrier that the students in the drama had to acquire in order to become a better person and a better performer.

Potential underlies the basis to being open minded. It is allowing new perspectives, new experiences to mould and change who you are. It’s a scary thought really, if you were to think about it in that way. After all, no one likes to lose “who they are” and no one likes the thought of not knowing who they are. I like to think of it as simply erasing the boundaries of who you are. Yes, you are fundamentally one thing, but you are also many other things on top of that. And by keeping those boundaries open and never closing them, you’ll always become something bigger. And that’s what growing truly means.

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3 thoughts on “Defining “Potential” and Learning to Grow

  1. Outstanding article! I loved the whole thing but especially the last few lines, and the idea of erasing boundaries. What wonderful thoughts. Blessings to you in the upcoming year!

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