Poking Holes in Potential

It wasn’t my parent’s fault. They only wanted what was best for me. They encouraged me, gave me wings, and built my confidence.

It wasn’t my teachers’ fault. They kindled the spark they saw. They shared their knowledge and filled my head with wisdom and dreams.

It wasn’t society’s fault. They celebrated women’s new roles. They amplified the message of ‘be all you can be’ and painted pictures of the role models I could follow.

So there I was in 1994, a young woman with wings and dreams and role models. A Gen X’er filled to the brim with potential. A world ready to welcome me, and me ready to show up. 

poking holes in potential

What did my parents know about my over-inflated expectations?
What did my teachers know about me being a small fish in a big pond?
What did society know about the recessions we were about to face?

Potential was not enough to sustain me. I needed connections. I needed tangible skills. I needed mentors. And I needed a real game plan.


It took me until my forties to realize that they weren’t kidding when they say that “it is who you know.” It really is. Your connections open the doors to more connections. Connections lay the groundwork for introductions, the underground job market, the inside scoop, and who’s who in the zoo. My potential did not give me a network.

What would I tell my younger self?

  • Build your connections now. 
  • Build connections for your children. 
  • Your merit is not enough if no one knows who you are. 

Tangible Skills

My undergraduate degree of intangible skills just wasn’t enough. No one really knew that when I started university. A degree was more education than many of the boomers had. But it was fluffy. It was theory and a little bit of critical thinking. It was not tangible skills. It was a stepping stone to something else. But I just didn’t have the energy and resources to do something else after those first four years of intense study. My potential did not give me the clear path of education that would translate to employment.

What would I tell my younger self?

  • Get real about what you study. 
  • Get real about what you will actually graduate with. 
  • Take the time you need to figure that out.
  • You need real skills to make it and often they don’t come with letters after your name.


Just recently I found a mentor. I was blind to their value and went through my life armed only with the ability to do things on my own. That could only take me so far. I could not question my own assumptions or see my invisible roadblocks. My potential prevented me from reaching out for help because I thought it would be weakness when in fact it would have been a strength.

What would I tell my younger self?

  • Find a mentor at every stage of your career. 
  • You need someone who has blazed the same trail.
  • You need someone who can open doors and open your eyes. 

A Real Game Plan

I only had plan A. And when plan A didn’t work I had no idea what to do next. I stumbled around and so I took whatever was easiest or closest. In this world you need a plan A, B, C and D, or up to Z if you are wise. I needed a real game plan and every great team has more than one play. My potential did not prepare me for setbacks and curve balls. 

What would I tell my younger self?

  • Create the contingency plans, many of them.
  • Play out the worst case scenario and look for what you have been blind to.
  • Find more than one path to what you want in case obstacles arise.


Potential was a pair of rose-coloured glasses. Or was it a pair of blinders? I thought if I continued to jump through the hoops, check off the ‘top of the class’ boxes, and please people along the way that life would come easy. I had unrealistic expectations and they were fueled everywhere I looked. I truly believed that if I just kept at it that my efforts would be rewarded. It’s a harsh reality when the promise of potential fails.

Sure my potential got me places, but it was no guarantee. I needed the sharp pangs of disappointment to poke the holes in potential and let it deflate. Potential is but a balloon filled with air that can buoy up your spirits but it is not strong enough to lift you when you stumble.

I now have more than potential - and maybe that is true for all of us - we all start out with only potential and life replaces it with experience as time goes on. But if I could pack a life knapsack for my son’s journey, I’d try to pack something more substantial.