If you know many kids, you also know many would-be scientists, rock stars, screen-guild actors, inventors, presidents and superheroes. The majority of people age 10 and younger have supreme aspirations and dreams of greatness that seem borne of action movies and fairytales. After all, dreaming is fun, it is experiential and a welcome divergence from the confines of everyday reality. As the ego forms, we are naturally beckoned and captivated by the fantasy stories in which we all play a starring role. Who among us has not wanted to save the world or go down in the annals of history? The self-concept that is free from the parameters of finite capacity and resource is able to frolic in the joy of aggrandizement. Nonetheless, the youthful mind can only stave off the inevitable clash between the shadows of personality and objective reality for so long, and we all eventually must reconcile aspiration with actualization. From my standpoint, aspiration is what one values independent of commitment or effort. Actualization, on the other hand, involves the true mobilization of ability, means, effort and perseverance toward a desired end. Although the vast majority of us start out with big dreams, those visions often fail to translate into the intentional immersion that results in realizing one’s hopes, which is why the world is not overrun with prodigy. Slowly but surely, most of us can’t sustain the effective and focused effort that is the path to greatness.
How sad it is, this losing of youth’s lustrous ideals, our insidious gravitation toward mediocrity that so marks maturation. I believe further examination can propel us more toward our potential, however. In my view, we must learn to more jealously and carefully guard against the caustic forces that erode our dreams. In order to do that, we have to understand what we battle against in our journey. To me, the most significant barrier to self-actualization is, ironically, the need to be right. We seek confirmation, reinforcement, propagation and validation of things that align with our existing view of reality. The pre-set ways in which we perceive the world become an anchor on natural curiosity and therefore staunch the acquisition of new understanding. It is only through seeking out creative and challenging paradigms that we grow, and when we stop growing, we arrest the pathway to greatness.
I often implore people to embrace the spirit of the white belt. This is not because of my intolerance of experts or superiority, it is because as a teacher, I am nurtured by the pursuit of higher levels of achievement in my students. These advances can only happen if one is willing to take the stance of “not knowing”. Just like climbing a ladder, the next rung cannot be reached until the grip on the previous rung is released. In this fashion, we must let go of expertise as soon as it is gained, and once again restore a position of open-minded discovery and learning anew in order to flourish in true wisdom.
In our pursuit of self-advancement, we concentrate our efforts and focus on the building of skill and potential, and thereby may be conquered by the forces that stealthily erode what we build. Undoubtedly you yourself are the harbinger of your own success, but may you also be the vessel of your own demise? In quantum physics, certain particles are capable of getting in their own way–and I believe people, too, have the capacity to be the impediment of their own progress. Every personality has both constructive and destructive forces, and the great man is one who is as vigilant about what propagates him as he defends against what erodes him. For instance, we choose to surround ourselves by people who invite us away from ascension, we give energy to frustrations, conflicts and lax activities that don’t matter, or we marinade in self-doubt. Just like a yin yang, the darkness and light reside and coalesce within every individual, and the pursuit of excellence requires constant self-discipline, to repel that which annuls our prosperity.
The question is, do you understand the ways that you hold yourself back, the ways that you counteract your ambitions, and do you continuously work to keep those impulses in check? If not, you have probably already succumbed to an abbreviated and circumscribed version of your greatest self. Take a moment to reflect on the aspirations of your earliest years. I implore you to please, with honesty, consider whether the child inside you would feel disappointed by the adult you have become. For many of us, the answer is “yes”, but as a teacher, I am a stalwart believer in the enduring strength of the human spirit at any age. I have had pupils who are in their 80’s. I have had the uplifting joy of working with people who never stop learning and ceaselessly persist in self-improvement. With conscientious and intentional life navigation, I believe it is never too late to engineer your potential and bridge the gap between aspiration and actualization.