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The Curse of Potential

I grew up in a “Garage sale” household.

World domination wasn’t a topic of discussion.

Not because it was impossible but worse, it was inconceivable.

We didn’t know people who “Made it.”

Our neighborhood was an incubator for blue-collar laborers and corporate cogs…pawns in the power game of business.

We may have had imagination but not big goals. Sure, we saw success on TV, but success seems so far away when you grow up in a town of 900 people.

It is like something that only happens to people in faraway magical lands. Not a speed trap, a single-street-light town in the middle of nowhere of upstate New York.

This is not an indictment of my parents.

I’m blessed. I was (and thankfully am still) loved by two amazing parents who did the best they could as often as they could.

You have Potential

As a child, people routinely said, “You have potential.”

To some adults, I displayed signs of intelligence, athleticism, leadership, and ambition. These attributes created opportunities.

Adults in my life would invest emotional and social capital in creating opportunities they hoped would pay dividends in my growth and results for whatever organization, club, or team they represented.

Many of these opportunities came with wins and success.

Each success would raise the bar of potential.

A leadership position here, a captainship there, I became addicted to, no, dependent on leveraging potential.

With potential comes pressure.

Your potential is only valuable if you eventually deliver results.

As I grew older, the pressure of potential began to crack my will. I became afraid. Afraid of what it meant to lose the wins and success.

I began to think small.

Neither society, nor circumstance taught me to think small. I taught myself.

At a certain point, overreliance on potential becomes simple underachievement.

Almost becomes “Good enough.

Good Enough

A life filled with “Good enough” is also filled with shame and regret.

Baseball

I was a good baseball player in high school. Not only did I have decent stats, but with a long and lean 6’4 frame, I looked the part. And having lived on a baseball for most of my life, I had the experience of talking the part of a highly productive high school baseball player.

Leveraging “potential,” I sold these attributes to the Unversity of Rochester in exchange for a substantial partial scholarship.

Instead of making good on my promise of potential, I choose to chase women, drink beer, and waste time with trivial college buffoonery.

I never truly applied myself; ultimately, I peaked well below my potential.

School

I’ve always been good at science and math.

Getting accepted into the Mechanical Engineering department at Rochester is difficult. Somehow I convinced them to give me a shot. But when the courses got tough (thermodynamics…woof), I gave up.

I convinced myself I didn’t want to become an engineer and settled for the easiest path to graduation.

Work

I’ve interviewed for a job and not been hired.

Managers and co-workers like me, and I fit in well with most corporate cultures. I’m a hard enough worker, friendly enough, and produce enough to be an adequate employee. I’ve held well-paying jobs at two highly respected international corporations in Washington, DC, and NYC.

These jobs never went anywhere. I never took proactive measures to move my career forward.

I spent most of my time memorizing fantasy baseball statistics and learning to sleep at my desk without being caught rather than improving my craft.

I never believed I could do more, so I didn’t try. I learned how to leverage my potential and let that be good enough.

We think small, so we fail small.

See, no one questions good enough.

Because most people settle for good enough.

Trying, caring, giving a shit…these expose you to ridicule and pain.

What if I tried my hardest and it wasn’t enough to be great?

I was a poor kid with nothing to fall back on, hustling his potential to get by…no, I couldn’t take that chance.

I settled for almost. I settled for good enough.

No worries, I have potential; there’ll always be another opportunity.

Potential is a Narcotic

Potential convinces us we’re doing everything possible to be successful without having to work to become that success.

When we rest on potential, settling for good enough, true success never materializes.

We start making excuses for our underachievement.

We tell ourselves these excuses so we sleep at night. Other excuses tell friends and loved ones in a vain effort to keep that twinkle of potential in their eyes when they look at you.

Selling my potential gave me little dopamine hits.

Unfortunately, the pleasure was short-lived, for inevitably, I’d underachieve, and whatever brief positive emotions I experienced were quickly replaced with fear, shame, and regret.

I’ve felt like I’m letting everyone down most of my life.

I’d say things like “if only” and “someday.”

Every night, alone with my thoughts, I’d lay there disgusted, shameful, and frustrated at my unwillingness to give life everything I had.

F*ck Potential

Potential is a leading indicator of success. It is not to be confused with actual success.

To believe otherwise is naïve, arrogant, and ultimately fatal…fatal to the success your potential is supposed to predict.

Here’s the good news, moving away from potential is a choice. You can make that choice right now.

I made this choice in 2014 when I realized working in a small, local insurance agency, unwilling to evolve, was not the environment to become my best self.

I promised myself I would never feel that way again.

The result was Agency Nation, the Elevate conferences, the Content Warfare book, a successful speaking career, Rogue Risk, hundreds of articles, podcasts, videos, and the honor of countless conversations with some of the most amazing people in the insurance industry (some of whom are reading this now).

F*ck potential. Choose to be more than your potential. Here are a few heuristics (cliche as they might be) to help you push past your potential to that faraway land upon which all your wildest dreams come true.

Follow your pain.

Shame, doubt, fear, and regret; use these feelings as guideposts.

Each will point you toward the area of your life where the opportunity exists to overcome your potential.

Do the work.

At some point, you need to do the work. You must engage. You must take the swing. You must step out into that unknown world beyond your comfort zone and battle the demons which live there.

View setbacks as lessons, not failures.

Moving past potential will, by definition, open you up to setbacks.

After being asked to leave Agency Nation, it’s parent company trademarked all my work so I couldn’t mention it again, sued me for stuff I didn’t do, and called all my speaking gigs, bullying multiple organizations into dropping me as a speaker.

They wanted to cancel me from the national insurance discourse…it didn’t work.

When you’re operating beyond your potential, you cannot be canceled.

Wins and lessons.

Own what you DO, not what you CAN do.

Do not allow yourself to fall into the “if only” or “someday” trap.

Evaluate the skills you have today (potential) compared to where you want to be (beyond potential).

You are NOT the “if only” version of yourself. You are what you can do today. If you don’t like that, get to work getting better.

The “if only” version of yourself is a fantasy developed by The Resistence, to keep you from your full self.

Keep going.

Never stop moving forward.

As you move beyond your potential, every fiber of your being will scream for you to stop.

Your lizard brain wants safety.

Nothing about what we’re discussing here is safe.

The Rub

Potential is an empty promise.

I know that now and so do you.

Don’t sell potential.

Commit to results and work your fucking ass off to make good on those commitments.

In the past, I’ve told you to give a shit about other people.

From now on, how about we also give a shit about ourselves too…and become more.

Now get to work.

Yours in insurance,

Hanley

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