observations on life

The Crushing Burden of Potential

When I was a kid in school, I was “smart.”  I got As.  I was in the “Bluebirds” reading group, which the smart kids were in, rather than the “Robins” group for the ones who couldn’t read so well.  I was well behaved and polite.  I never got in trouble.  In high school I was a sort of teaching assistant for advanced biology.  I was in National Honor Society.  I had high ACT scores.  I was in band and theater.


And I hated school.   Less as time went on, but for the most part I was bored to death and being at school was like being in jail.  Too many rules (like no talking in the cafeteria or the halls.  I swear I’m not making this up.)  Kids were mean.  I was very shy.  It was a nightmare.  A twelve year long nightmare.


When I graduated I got a job at an insurance company, and got married.  Strangely, my parents, both teachers, never talked with me or my sister about going to college.  There was no plan.  There were no admissions forms.  No discussion of any kind about college.  My sister and I are dumbfounded to this day about that.  What were they thinking?


So for years I’ve been wondering what my life would have been like had I gone to college right after high school.  (I finally graduated from college when I was 40, then got a master’s degree.)  I could have been anything, gone anywhere.  Or, that’s what I’ve always thought.  And I’ve been berating myself for never achieving anything important or fulfilling, feeling stupid and lazy for never “reaching my potential”.  Until today.  I am now 60 years old.  It has taken me this long to come to the realization that having been chronically depressed, sometimes very seriously depressed and suicidal, since I was 13 years old, was what kept me from being the person I could have been, or was supposed to be, or had the potential to be.  Why did it take me this long? Why have I been beating myself up all this time for being such a failure? And resenting my parents for never even discussing college with me? It wouldn’t have mattered.

What was I thinking?



One thought on “The Crushing Burden of Potential

  1. Roxie says:

    “Does not work up to potential”; how often did I hear that as a schoolkid? Eventually I realized that “potential” was someone else’s idea of what I was or could be. To hell with that. Here’s my theory: if you’re terrifically intelligent and what you really want to do with your life is make balloon animals for kids at birthday parties for a living instead of design the next cure for ingrown toenails, it’s OK. “Potential” has nothing to do with you and everything to with others. “Satisfaction” is personal.


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