December 23 – Have I gotten the most out of my abilities?

December 23. “Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have.” (Zig Ziglar)

Today’s quote is one that can either be a reaffirming acknowledgement that I am doing all that I can in life, or a slap in the face that I need to do more.

The truth is that even without ever reading this quote before, I have struggled with this concept for much of my life. By many measures, I am a successful person. I have a great wife. I have 4 adult children who are loving, caring, responsible people who inspire me daily. I have a great career where I have reached a level of success. I have a circle of friends who love me, and for whom I would do just about anything. It is easy to look at my life and call it a success.

But then this quote comes along, and refers to the maximum utilization of the ability I have, and I question it all again. Have I really maximized my potential?

When I was I grade school and high school, many of my teachers told me that I was destined for greatness. They saw a potential in me to go far in life. Some had visions of me being a lawyer, others of me being a politician. Still others thought I would be a captain of industry. They all told me that the sky was the limit for me, and that I could achieve anything in life. Based on my grades and test scores, and on how I conducted myself with my classmates and teachers, it would be easy to see how they would think that. From the 6th grade on I had great grades, I did well on standardized tests, and in high school I even held leadership positions.

If I were to round up any of those teachers who are still around, and they remembered the details about me from back then, would they say that I achieved what they envisioned for me? Would they say that I have squeezed everything out of my abilities in life? Or would they say that I did what was needed to get to a level of comfort, and then settled?

Even at work my earliest performance reviews seemed to say that I would someday rise through the ranks. My early years seemed to play that out as I was on a pace of about a promotion every 3 years. But then I got to the level I am now, and have stayed there for more than a decade. I have had challenging assignments, and have delivered on them, but I haven’t been promoted.

So, here I sit with 1 week to go in this calendar year, and I am pondering whether I have reached my potential in life. Two answers are flying around in my head.

The first, more comforting answer is that I have achieved what I set out to achieve in life. From childhood my dream was to be a good husband and father. My father died when I was very young, and I wanted to be there for my children well into their adult years. I wanted to make sure my wife had her husband by her side into her silver-haired years, which are still quite a ways down the road for her. It would seem that I have been successful in life by those yard sticks.

The second answer, though, has to do with ability and potential. And, it is a more fearless look. In this lens I begin to wonder. Could I have made more sacrifices in life and moved my family even further forward? Could I have worked harder and earned more promotions at work?

Ultimately, for me, this question boils down to what I think of myself and of my own performance in life, not what my teachers of old would think, or what my friends and family of today would think. It comes down to what I think.

Before you start revving up your calls and comments of encouragement, be sure to read to the end of this post.

Zig Ziglar was a motivational speaker. His chosen job in life was to inspire people to reach their highest possible level of success, however they would define that level. Many who came to his seminars were business people looking to achieve at work. For them, the promotion to the proverbial corner office was in their sights. They would look at this quote, and put more effort into wringing out their potential at work to succeed at a higher level. Many who went to his seminars, and read his books did just that.

As I sit here and ponder my life, it is clear that I have – both consciously and unconsciously – chosen a different measure of success. For me success has been that I have a great family, a loving wife, and a circle of caring friends. I don’t have a house that will be on TV shows, and my bank account won’t make anyone faint, but I am not in the poor house either. I am not running the company for which I work, but I am not at the bottom of the ladder either.

I made trade off decisions in my career. Rather than Graduate school, I spent time with my children. Rather than late nights at the office, I chose to be home for dinner. Rather than skipping vacations, I took my time with my family. I regret none of those decisions. Those and other decisions may have sealed my position at my company. Might I have climbed higher with a different set of decisions? Maybe. But the truth is that I am happy with how things turned out.

That is not to say that I think I have completely maximized my abilities in life. The goal-oriented, objective-writing project manager in me would never say that. I always want to strive to do more with my abilities. I always want to be better at all that I do, whether I am talking about my career, my family and friends, or my hobbies (like this blog). I always believe that I can do more with what I have. What I am saying is that there is a difference between getting more out of myself, and saying that I chose the wrong path in life.

Today my reflection is on all of the success I have had in life. I know there are more mountains to climb, and more success waiting for me at their summits. I also know that I have achieved much, and I am very happy with how things have turned out – even if my 8th grade teacher wouldn’t agree.

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