“Maximizing Your Potential”: Don’t Let the Jargon Get in Your Way

One of the first jobs I worked was with a manager who was a huge fan of Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins.  He was always throwing out little maxims about how to get ahead and be successful.  I probably would have been more impressed if he hadn’t been the manager of a local pizza restaurant, which wasn’t even his own franchise- it was a corporate store! What made me and every other employee roll their eyes was the way he always acted as if he were on the fast-track to being a millionaire.

Don’t get me wrong here: having self-confidence is a great thing (and boy, did he!)  Keeping your eyes focused on your goals is also a great thing, but what made everyone giggle behind his back was the way he always had a quick quote and/ or rule for whatever situation we were dealing with: “you can be part of the solution or you can be part of the problem.” Yeah, that’s a pithy little quote, but I’m not sure he knew what it meant or how to apply it to whatever situation we were working on.  (FYI: he got transferred to the boonies and then fired!)

Every since then, I have really developed a bias against this kind of motivational jargon.  I have never found it to be effective (I’m way too cynical) but also I think it gets in people’s way.  Motivational speakers like to use phrases like “maximizing your potential” and “taking massive determined action.” I’m sorry but that’s a little vague to me.  To be blunt, what the hell does that mean for my situation?  How the hell am I supposed to know if my potential is being maximized or if my action was massive and determined enough?  Maybe I’m just being hypercritical (yeah, I am!) but I believe those phrases probably gets the audience’s blood pumping and when they walk out of the speech, they are all fired up to go out and act massively and determinedly and maximize that potential (yeah! go get ’em, Tony/ Dale/ whoever).  But then they get back to their desk and they’re looking at what’s on their plate and………”so…..where do I go from here? What’s my next step?  What does maximizing and acting massively look like for me?”

That’s my problem with motivational jargon: it’s far too vague and amorphous to be very effective for me.  Because it’s in a quick pithy little ‘sound-bite,’ it’s too general to be effective for the average person (or a cynical old crab like me anyways!)  I have mentioned before that I have post-it notes full of ‘inspirational quotes’ all over my cubicle.  The pic above only shows a few of them but as you can see, most of them are not short and ‘pithy.’  One of my favorites is by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel): “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  Another favorite by Miguel Cervantes: “I know who I am and who I may be if I choose” and the one that probably most applies to working towards your goals is by Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  Two I do have that are short and might be classified as pithy are from Hannibal:”We will either find a way or make one” and by ‘Yoda’ (George Lucas, I am assuming): “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Most of my ‘inspirational’ quotes are wordy and offer advice, generally about working hard, keeping your eye on your goals and making the most of your opportunities. When I sit down at my desk, these are the ‘maxims’ that give me direction, and for me that is the difference between “maximizing my potential” or “acting massively and determinedly”  and actually doing something that gets me farther along my path. When faced with a difficult task, I “do or do not.”  I either “find a way or make one.” And I always say what I think and be who I am- I am too old and crabby to change now! For some people, the pithy sound-bite motivational maxims work; it gets their blood pumping and they are on fire to make progress!  For others, they need a little more direction and guidance.

It is no different when it comes to losing weight or getting fitter: the old “no pain no gain” sound-bites don’t work for a lot of people, especially when they are stuck at someone’s party or as a guest out somewhere.  What kind of motivational advice do some diet gurus give? “Go hard or go home?” Does that really help a lot of people? Sometimes I believe it really puts a focus on things for me: don’t give in to temptation or peer pressure, but most of the time, it’s not what keeps me moving towards my goals.  Probably the worst thing about this kind of ‘go hard’ motivation is the way it makes us feel when we didn’t ‘go hard’ and had the piece of cake or the fried chicken or just too much of anything.  It makes us feel hopeless, worthless and helpless.  Offering a little more guidance and direction helps more when it comes to facing the overstocked buffet table full of unhealthy food or the morning after having eaten the overstocked buffet table: “what is the next best choice you can make to move you towards your goals?” “How do you want to feel in an hour/ tomorrow/ next week and what will make you feel like that?” This is the kind of motivational advice that I like best.  It offers a little direction and it’s specific to me. Yes, there is the table full of potato salad, fried cheese, croissant sandwiches and deep dish pizza, but how do I want to feel tomorrow?  Yes, I had the pizza, the beer and the deep fried ice cream last night, but what is the next best choice I can make this morning?

Maybe it’s a little simplistic but simple works for me.  Jargon just puts me off.  It burns hot and fast and then burns out; reaching your goals, whether fitness, weight loss or owning a Fortune 500 company takes hard work and long hours and lots of dedication.  You might get there by ‘maximizing your potential,’ but you’re more likely to get there by making the next best choice for you.  Another of my favorite quotes? “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything” (Wyatt Earp- and he ought to know!)

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