Sunday, December 8, 2013

Peak Potential

"The most common commodity in this country is unrealized potential."
                                                             -Calvin Coolidge

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:"
                                                            -Ecclesiastes 3:1

How does one reach peak potential?  How do you know if you peaked out at the right time?

These two quotes help answer that question in my mind.

There is a lot of potential in everyone that is unrealized as Calvin Coolidge observed many years ago.  

Why is that?  My experience is that a lot of unrealized potential occurs because people get off track. They lose focus. They don't observe the verse from Ecclesiastes. There is a time or season for everything. If you want to reach your peak potential you need to understand this and take advantage of the season of life you are in. It is about of having a sense of where you are in addition to understanding who you are.

For example, a farmer is not going to succeed by planting their crop in the winter or by starting to harvest in mid-summer, no matter how hard they work. Planting needs to be done in the spring and harvesting is done in the fall. You will never approach peak potential doing it any other way.

The same is true of our lives. To reach your peak potential you need to understand the seasons in your life.

When you see people flounder and fail it is often because of ignoring this rule.  People drop out of school when they should be educating themselves. They have children before they get married. They live only for today without thinking about the consequences of tomorrow.  There is a time for everything but their timing is off.  They will never reach peak potential.

I offer my perspectives on the seasons of life based on my experiences and observations over my lifetime on what it takes to say you peaked out at the right time in each season. My rules for reaching peak potential are spelled out in the acronym...


These foundational principles may not apply to everyone. There are exceptions to every rule. However, I think it is worth considering in your life planning or as your mentor younger people.

Each of the life stages corresponds to a decade of life beginning with the 20's. Through the teen years most people are not in full control of their life decisions.  Their parents have significant influence over most facets of their children's lives.  However, beginning with the 20's, this changes dramatically and the individual decisions that we make become critical.  That is the age at which responsibility and accountability really become important in the life direction of an individual.

Prepare (the 20's)
The 20's are the preparation decade. This is the time to prepare for the future. It is the time to the get the necessary education and training for the future. It is the time to find out what you really like to do. It is also the time to find out what time of people add value to your life, including a future spouse. This is a decade where most people have more flexibility to experiment (and even fail) without devastating life consequences. After all, time is on your side in the 20's.

That does not mean it should be a period without direction or thought. Everything you do should have a purpose or done with a long-term outlook. Finding out what you don't like to do, and people you do not like to be with, can be helpful in finding what and who you like.

Establish (the 30's)
The 30's is the decade to establish your life.  Your preparation should be largely behind you and now is the time to firmly establish what your career and personal life is going to be over your lifetime.

In other words, by the time you get to your 30's it is time to have some purpose in your life. You should know what you want to accomplish, have goals to get there and be on your way to achieving them.

Advance (the 40's)
I like to think of the 40's as the advancement decade.  This is the decade when most people should be in  best position to advance themselves.  You are in the sweet spot.  You have enough experience under your belt to know what you are doing and you have sufficient time on your side to make a difference.

For example, an entrepreneur is probably in the best position in their 40's to expand their business. Someone working in the corporate world is probably going to have a good understanding of what their ultimate level and role will be.

This is also the decade that parents should be focused on advancing their own children by providing them the right combination of guidance, direction, discipline and freedom so they are prepared for the future.

Knowledge (the 50's)
Knowledge is the key element of peak potential in the 50's.  Your prior experiences should provide you a wealth of knowledge.  This is the decade that it is your principal asset.  You likely have reached as far up the career ladder as you are going to go sometime during this decade.  However, your knowledge provides a lot of power and potential whether in your profession or as a parent.

Your knowledge puts you in a great position to mentor younger people and do meaningful work.

Enjoy (the 60's)
By the time you get to your 60's it is time to start really enjoying life. Most of us think of these as the retirement years that are the reward for all the hard work you put in over your lifetime.  However, in this day and age, more people are working in their 60's than at any time in the last 30 years. If you are still working, it should be because you really enjoy the work. It should not be because you have to.  If that is the case, you probably didn't properly prepare by saving for tomorrow by establishing a sound retirement investment plan.  As I said before, you can't live only for today and ignore tomorrow.

Distribute (the 70's and beyond)
Any good retirement planner will explain there are two main phases in any retirement plan. The accumulation period and the distribution period. You accumulate assets during your working years.  You use these assets to distribute the income you need in retirement.  That is why the 70's is the distribution decade.

However, distribution of monetary assets should not be the sole focus in your 70's.  This is also the time you really should be distributing your knowledge and experience to the succeeding generations.  Pass down what you have learned to your children and grandchildren. Volunteer your services. Mentor a young person. Society succeeds when we can leverage prior experiences and knowledge. When we do that, progress becomes easier.  

My experience and knowledge tells me that if you get to this point you will have a lot to distribute because you will have led a life that reached peak potential.

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