Monday, September 10, 2012

The problematic puzzle of potential

So here's the thing. We had a few people get up in arms last week when we talked about looking for potential in a mate. Some argued it's not a marketable commodity, I vehemently disagree. What I will say about potential is that it's tricky. First of all, let's define it. 

po·ten·tial \pə-ˈten(t)-shəl\: noun a : something that can develop or become actual b : promise
adj : existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality 
: expressing possibility; specifically : of, relating to, or constituting a verb phrase expressing possibility, liberty, or power by the use of an auxiliary with the infinitive of the verb 

Thank you, Merriam-Webster.

I do believe as long as one is breathing there is hope and potential for betterment. Some things are easy. As far as looks go, I think everyone can mastermind an extreme makeover in six-twelve months time. So I don't factor in looks. You either like what you see in someone or you don't.

As far as brainpower goes, everyone has a brain. It's how they use it that comes into play. For personality, it pretty much is what it is. A super high energy sarcastic girl is not going to turn into a laidback go with the flow chick overnight. Pick accordingly.

Usually when we talk about potential, we're talking about life choices as they pertain to employment, goals, long-term plans and lifestyle. 

I think when you are looking for a lifemate (as opposed to a cocoa buddy), potential should be factored in. But here's where it gets tricky and discussion worthy. How much time do you give a person to either realize their potential or call it a wrap? What's the difference between potential and pipe dreams?

Classic Case A - Dude is 35, living in Nana's basement still talking about making it to the NBA. I don't care if he is 6'10" with the physique of a Greek God. His sell-by date on those hoop dreams has long passed him by. Am I saying he's not worthy of a long-term looksee? No. I'm saying that if his serious plan to support himself and whoever he chooses as a mate is waiting on a call from the Miami Heat, his judgment is as suspect as his jumper. 

Classic Case B - Girl is 32, taking pictures of herself in the bathroom mirror still talking about her modeling career. She needs to have several seats and a reality check. Not saying she may not be gorgeous, but the chances of her truly getting to live out her Naomi Campbell fantasy are slim to none at that point.

Okay, those were extreme cases. In other, more frequent examples we often see people in their thirties and into their forties that may not have hit their stride yet. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Can we all agree that potential without a plan to get there past the age of 35 is a bad thing? And by "there" I mean the path to attaining a life goal. A realistic sustainable life goal. 

I'm not hating on folks that go back to school at 40 or start completely new careers at 50. That's a plan, a foot on the path, if you will. Maybe you are in your late twenties now doing something you absolutely hate but you're being paid well for it. In my mind, you still haven't reached your full potential. When you find yourself doing something that makes you happy or at least satisfied in your soul, you're on that path. 

The tricky thing about this is how to recognize when someone is temporarily knocked off the path, taking their time getting to the path or when someone doesn't even know what their path is. This is where the Barack/Michelle thing comes in. Michelle meeting a Harvard Law Grad who was struggling to pay back loans is worlds apart from meeting someone who has been working customer service for ten years wondering where their life went. Sure, Barack had all the skills in the toolkit and fire in the belly to make sure  he was on the come up. Who's to say customer service chick isn't going to turn it all around next year? It's harder to see.

The long and short of it is that each person has to decide for themselves. When you meet someone - do they share your dreams and goals and morals? If they aren't where they want to be, do they have a plan to get there with the brains to back it up, the drive to keep going when things get tough and the hustle to switch courses and make it do what it do no matter what? 

As one who has hit the reset button on her own life a few times, I always think there's time to do more, get better, keep pushing, all of those "where there's breath there's hope" analogies. But then again, I never hit reset without knowing exactly what I was going to do next and what the backup plan was if that didn't work. 

BougieLand, how much do you factor in potential when you meet someone? At what age do you find that your tolerance for "potential" runs thin? Do you think after a certain point, people still have the power to change and better themselves? Do you think you've realized your potential either professionally or personally? Do discuss...


MeetCharlieL said...

Points for the alliteration. As you say, if I like the looks and brain then I'm looking for the potential. What will this person be down the road. And shallow though it may be, if I'm taking to a woman over 30 still talking about some pie in the sky goal (model, singer, actress), it's a no go for me. 
I'm a bit of an education snob. I generally gravitate to degreed women in corporate American but if I saw that hustle in someone who didn't fit "the profile" I'd be interested.
I definitely haven't realized my full potential yet, I don't want to get to the point where I look around and say "I've arrived" but as you say, I'm on the path. 

Andrea M said...

Sorry. I don't want to hear any man over 35 talmbout what's he's still going to do. Get there already. 

David Parrish, Jr.(Inkognegro) said...

I have spent the majority of my adult life staring down the amazing expectations that were set for me as a child.  

Periodically I will slip into something of a depression over the comparison of what I should be doing versus what I AM doing.  The reality that ultimately settles me and keeps me from sliding deeper into that chasm is that my journey has made me more of a man than any material/professional success would. 

The reality is at 42 that I am a much better man and person that I would have been had I reached the potential that my schooling had revealed.

Learning to be okay with that is key for me. 

Javalicious said...

I need to understand the path. I really do. I don't mind if you're not there but what we doing?
And I need one area of your life set. It can't all be up in the air. Fam, friends, job, aspirations, transportation, religion - something needs to be a rock we can build on.
Oh, and I'm not carrying or raising a grown man. You can lean if I can lean back but that about it.

thinklikeRiley said...

Potential + hustle = win
Potential + couch sitting waiting for the lotto to kick in = nowhere near the land of win

thinklikeRiley said...

Oh, and over the weekend - I met a 50 y.o. dude still tryna get a rap deal.
Nah sir. _/ seats. have many.

aishao1122 said...

Everyone and everything has potential, it's whether or not you have cultivated it that matters, basic and detailed plans matter, but getting it done is more important. Not everyone is going to be Barack/Michelle, but everyone isn't Beyonece?Jayz either. I just need you to be Me/You.

Personally I have had to reset several times as well. Education is key for me. I have a few certificates and a few degrees, each have built on the last and helped put me where I wanted to be. I've seen people who don't have degrees do well, but generally they have something else going for them. I however will say if you don't have a basic idea of what the life plan is you and I can't talk; I need someone I can discuss everything or anything with. Not just what some basic celebrity is doing right this moment.
I have learned that it's about whether they will fit in with you and your people.  if they are secure in themselves they will be fine but sometimes they don't fit and their insecurity will show up. Ex: My sister was dating a guy who didn't go to college, good looking guy with a great job, after a while he started acting out whenever they went out, simply because he started to feel out of place with her friends and our family. Our family discussions at the dinner table on sundays would run from politics to history to modern music and current trends, we didn't try to exclude him, but this is how we have had discussions at the table since I was little. Everybody comes to the table knowing something to add in, he generally only had something to do with sports (which was cool b/c three of the girls are Stans for the Giants, and 1 Die Hard Cowboys fan, both parents love BBall and other sports) so we could discuss that, but eventually the subject would move on and he wouldn't have anything to add. When you tried to add him in he would give serious attitude, until one day he did it to my Mom and my Dad went in on him. (Don't mess with Rastas man they may look laid back, but somethings are sacred to them and they will defend it when necessary)  Eventually they did break up, he had the potential but he wasn't confident enough in himself. 

Sasha in Stilettos said...

It's not just the potential. It's the compatibility. I will sit and eat ramen with you for a year if you are hustling and we vibe like that. But I won't be on packing crate couches if you can't act right. You can't struggle AND be ratchet. 
If we're working together, let's work in harmony. Let me laugh along the way and be like, "This is a good man."
I will ride or die fro a brutha trying to get there, wants me with him and treats me right.
Damn if I'm gonna be on some struggle and miserable? What part of the game?
Girl, you got me preaching today. 

TrulyPC said...

I lived a good portion of my adult life the way that others expected me to so I understand pushing the reset button when you wake up.  But I still like to live in reality and someone that is not being realistic about their goals by having a plan doesn't factor in as an option for me.  Potential is not a dirty word but if it is mixed with delusion it can feel like one.  

Jason P said...

Sorry, I've been tripped up by the "potential" thing before. My last long-term relationship was built on potential, promise and chemistry. In the end all that was left was the chemistry. You have to get to know someone to understand their heart. It's not hard for people to say the right things coming out the gate. This girl had plans and brains and said all the right things to back it up. It just never happened. One excuse after another until I realized she was just looking for someone to carry her along while she figured it all out. No thanks.

I've outgrown my patience level for "potential" at this point. In my 20s, okay. I'm early 30s so I want someone at the same level professionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually, the whole nine. Then we can take it to the next level together. 

M Dot said...

Interesting take. Sometimes it depends where you started, and where you're trying to go may take longer than the typical work in Corporate America and get to Associate/AVP by 30 route. Too each his/her own.Sometimes the man has the plan on his own but the right woman in his life can get him to his goal.  I have a mentor who became successful in his business but if he didn't have his (now) wife doing the accounting he'd be nowhere.It's not about  Barack  being a Harvard Law Grad. If that's the case then all women should just crash the Harvard Law or HBS alum parties and hope for the best.   It's about seeing if the person has the drive to get towards their goal and sometimes filling in the blanks.

William Martin said...

It's all about match up. There's a guy here who has been mopping the floors of this hospital for 30 years. His wife has been cooking in the cafeteria for the same amount of time - they are happy as hell, been married for 32 years.
It would drive me crazy. I'd be pushing her to take over food services regionally for the whole hospital chain. And I'd be trying to invent a mop that cleaned in half the time using half the soap or whatever. But that's my story.

People have to know what they will be happy with and fish in those waters. If all you want is a "good man" - there are plenty of those out there at all income brackets. I keep saying I would happy with a "simple woman" but I keep finding myself drawn to the fancy ones. *ye shrug*

It's not about the money or the position, it's about the fit. Everybody says when you find it, you'll know it. 
*sits and waits*

Miz JJ said...

People are a constant work in progress. This week I am going back to school to begin a master's degree. My guy moved to a different city to grow his business. These moves are challenging and will have us apart more than together, but we believe and hope they will improve *our* lives in the long run.  However, I am someone who needs to see an end date in sight. We have a plan to get us back to where we want to be. Goals without a plan are just wishes & I will not starve, or struggle in order to wish with you. Sorry, but I don't know nothing about that kinda life.  

Mina B. said...

what? no room in the game for Grampeezy the geriatric gangster? what kind of world is this! 

blackprofessor said...

I can get on board with potential as long as it is coupled with demonstrations of a strong work ethic, a well-thought out plan, flexibility and ambition.  Anything other than that is wishful thinking. 

Mina B. said...

it depends. like someone already said- everything can't be in the air- but I can get down with lofty aspirations if I see a solid plan that is IN PROGRESS. 

keishabrown said...

* a girl, so speak from the girl perspective*

from my vantage point, the idea of potential in relationships, is to generally benefit the fellas more than the females. 
i've never heard/read in any conversation (comments above me not withstanding), that men will date (seriously) a girl with potential to be a wife. she's got to be/show wife-able-ness right away vs. the relationship discussion is ALWAYS telling women to consider a brotha that has potential and stop shooting for the 'ready made' man. 

i know that some people (incl the ladies) set their sights WAY too high, without looking at themselves and doing so honestly. 

Grace said...

Potential, plan, purpose and ACTION!
Met too many people that need to be about but instead just dream about it.

FreeBlackMan said...

Ladies see potential as ability to make money.
Men see potential as ability to be a good wife and mother while looking good.

Jasmine Girl said...

That seems a little narrow?

Jasmine Girl said...

"I've outgrown my patience level for "potential" at this point.
Cosign. +1. Heartily agree.

Jennifer said...

money is not enough.  But it's a perk for the man with the ability to be a good husband and father.

Whitney said...

It depends on where that person is in life.  I'm 50, just married a 56 year old hard working man who gave me one thing I was missing, his word and ability to follow through with it.  We saw what we truly needed in one another, communicated that to each other, no bull.  Seeing potential can also blind you if you are desperate.  I'm talking about both men & women on that.  Also, I'm on another journey in my life and love it.

AminataB said...

I've always been a woman that believed in looking at a prospective others potential. But the potential has to sit in a realistic realm. For instance, if you're 36 and still trying to start a t-shirt line without financial backing and short sighted bueno. If you're broke graduate student, living with your parents/roommates to save money, but you have a strong work ethic, direction, strong character and moral, I can pick you up or we can ride the bus together LOL! Or even if your plans are to build a business and you're focused with an excellent idea and working on your business plans, I'm okay with that as well.

As humans we'll always be a work in progress at some level, at the age of 26, I'm not at my pinnacle (working towards it) and therefore I don't expect that of my significant other at this present time. And I definitely believe in "building" together. I think that's one of the reasons why White households have  more wealth than Black households. They tend to get married early and build their wealth together.

ClayJones said...

I'm in my fifties so my threshold for foolishness and might-could-be-someday is low.
At this point, I've got me so I'm looking for someone to bring other things to the table.
Intelligence, class, conversation, chemistry, sense of humor, sense of self worth, low drama, still has some joie de vivre that sort of thing.
If I find it in a diva or dishwasher, I don't care. 

OneChele said...

I have to award some style points for "joie de vivre"
*adds to lists of must haves*

GrownAzzMan said...

No all men. I am all about the financially stable woman. Not that concerned with the wife/mother role because I am not interested in more children. We can agree on the looking good part though...LOL

Diana said...

Yeah I got served up a big heaping spoonful of "stick with me and we'll get there" too. Two years later, I was there waiting on him to catch up. He thought it would be cool to let me take all the financial burden while he perfected his Xbox Halo habit. Never again. 

Mo said...

Potential  with a life  plan is a win win for me. However, as  was mentioned below (@Jason P), chemistry plays an important role. My last relationship was with a guy that on paper did not look good (talking about education, b.c that is usually up there for me). He was open to learning and broadening his horizon, and that was a check mark for me. When I tell you it was one of the best relationship I have been in believe me, and I'm here to admit that I screwed it up.

GuessImJay said...

Let's just be real. There's a window for certain professions. You can only talk about someone coming into their potential for so long until it's clear to all that they've missed the window of opportunity. Now maybe they are meant to be great else where but I for one hate when someone is still talking about how great they could be when they've been failing in that area for years. Move on, get another dream and be great there or settle for knowing you tried and did the best you could.

As for relationships, the come-up hustle and the stay-there struggle are real. If someone is willing to work with you and stick it out, that says more than anything else.

Foxy Brown said...

i'm 29 and i love what i do.  absolutely, love it!!  however, not only does it not pay well (i'm a hospital chaplain) but i have brains that i'm not using.  i feel like my brain is turning to mush.  while, i have found ways to stimulate my mind (getting an article published and attending a leadership conference), those opportunities are few and far between.  i'm hoping to be board certified so i get to use my mind writing essays, but once that's done, it's done.  all that to say, i don't feel like i'm using all my potential. 

as far as relationships go, ummm, i'm 29...what do i know? lol.  i echo guessimjay, find someone who is willing to work with you and stick it out.  cause while i look good on paper, i will never be racking in paper.  if that's important, then we won't work.

CaliGirlED said...

 Ditto!!! Also too plus additionally I believe in continuous improvement.

CaliGirlED said...

"It can't all be up in the air. Fam, friends, job, aspirations,
transportation, religion - something needs to be a rock we can build on."...THIS!!!

"Oh, and I'm not carrying or raising a grown man."....ESPECIALLY THIS!!!

CaliGirlED said...


Marioned said...

At my age I am pass potential and into influential, credential and essential!

CaliGirlED said...

"I will sit and eat ramen with you for a year if you are hustling and we
vibe like that. But I won't be on packing crate couches if you can't act
right. You can't struggle AND be ratchet."....*bangs a tambourine*

There is too much truth be spoken in BougieLand today!...Did she say "crate couuches"??? Bwahahahahaha!!!

CaliGirlED said...

I was so enjoying the comments, but I gotta run!

For some folks, potential means: You're not doing anything right now and I'm not going to stick around listening to your pipe dream! And for others it's: You have some achievements/successes under your belt (you may have fallen and gotten back up) and you're looking to take it to another level, or get back to where you were with a plan to take it to another level. Having learned from your mistakes. <-----This I can do!

"If they aren't where they want to be, do they have a plan to get there
with the brains to back it up, the drive to keep going when things get
tough and the hustle to switch courses and make it do what it do no
matter what?"....EXACTLY

SouthernWes said...

Potential is cool at 25. Iffy at 35. Gone at 45. 
Thank God I met my wife at 22. 

Bryan Anthony said...


C Nelson said...

 This is me, as well. My parents pushed (and, to be fair, I also pushed myself to meet those expectations) so hard academically that I broke (and also broke and ran), and then spent a lot of time finding out that I wasn't actually prepared me for anything BUT school. Three kids, a failed marriage, and a lot of heartache later, I'm in my mid-thirties doing the things normal adolescents do -- new country to explore, new school plans, new husband. So -- I played to my strengths. I picked a field where maturity is an asset and my life experience makes a positive difference. People just don't have the same confidence in a young midwife, and I won't be ageing out of the field before I'm ready to retire. Plus, I'll get to deliver babies, cuddle babies -- and then hand them to their parents. I like where I am and who I am much better than I would ever have liked the plans my parents had for me.

No Comment said...

*standing O* 

Very well stated 

happinessisme said...

Potential. It all depends really. Are you actively working towards goals everyday or just dreaming and sometimes doing the darn thing? Like, are you a rapper who is selling their stuff on the streets of NYC(New Yorkers, you know what I'm taking about) or are you a rapper who is booking shows, trying or has a manager, something like that? It all depends really. You want to open a business? Have you looked into some grants, loans, or whatnot? Or are you  talking about it every so often after smoking that herb?? Of course Barack had potential but old boy down the street who lives with his peoples, be in the studio and has two chillin out of wedlock, probably not so much. Also, I think Michele said on the last one, potential is cool at 22, but maybe not at 38. By that time some progress has to been made and actualized. If the dream at 22 was to be a doctor for instance, I think it's fair to assume that by 38 you have realized that, and the NEW dream is to have your own practice or something like that. Not still be taking classes on and off. 

happinessisme said...

I have a "friend" for intance that is an okay artist/designer. He gave some of his work to Russell Simmons with the hopes that he would get "put on" because of it. Now since that hasn't happened he talks greasy bout him ery chance he gets. My "friend" hasn't reached his potential because he's not working hard enough and not making it happened. Not because Russell Simmons, a stranger, didn't put him on. 

SingLikeSassy said...

This! Dude mopping the floor for 30 years?!! He's happy but my parents taught me to be on top of whatever game I'm in so like you I would have been wondering how after a year or two this brother didn't have some plan to form a janitorial service and let the hospital be one of his accounts....

SingLikeSassy said...

This is where I'm at right here. 

SingLikeSassy said...

*sits next to Andrea*

SingLikeSassy said...

This is Bougieland so I'll say it: if you aint got nothing to show for 35+ years of living on this here earth, you are not the man for me.

Now, I married a teacher/musician so this isn't about financials, though I need for your money game to be tight (bills paid, credit good, living within your means), but you can't be rubbing two nickels together at 35+ on no hope and wish type jawn.

Eshe said...

I think potential only applies to/for people under thirty-five. After
that age, I want to see how you're going to reach your stated goal. Do
you know what steps you need to take to get to where you want to be? How much progress have you made? Does he have a sense of urgency, or is he taking his sweet time? We're old, our whole lives are not ahead of us anymore - we ain't got time to lollygag. Don't talk about it, be about it.

I don't "work with" men. Either a man has his stuff together or he doesn't, and if he doesn't it's not my job to teach him. He has to come to the table ready and able to start building, immediately. No, I will not lower my standards. I have nary a problem staying single and unattached - the perks are great. Sex is way overrated and adoption is an option for single women nowadays.

Am I able to come to the table and start building immediately? No. I just started my MFA in Digital Cinema. It's a LOT of work, and dating or a relationship would be a major distraction. I'm off the market until I'm done (2015). I just need to drool over pictures of The Rock a couple of times a month, and I'm good. ;-)


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