Moments of Impact: What is Human Potential?

Human potential. Karl Marx wrote about how society holds us back, that “free laborers” are slaves in disguise, summed up gleefully by the Verve’s lyrics: “Trying to make ends meet/You’re a slave to your money then you die.” So often, it feels like Marx was kind of right: we’re trying to run past what society demands of us so we can just have a moment to fall deeper into ourselves. To process. To make. To develop. Whether you’re the starving artist trope or a busy individual trying to develop a new scientific theory, we’re all fighting to get to spend time with our human potential, our estranged pet in the modern day (unless you’re denying it, then that’s a whole other story).

Of course, there’s this eerie “unleash the beast” aspect to discussions of human potential that is as idiotic as it is frightening. I can’t stand the level of preoccupation, narcissism, and destruction our so-called “self improvement” culture has produced,  encouraging us to shed the yoke of shame to better ourselves at the risk of hitting others, especially in certain circles and organizations. Maybe we should come back to Fight Club to consider our obsession with the “self” especially now that we have a president who Tweets things like this:

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But seriously, there’s a lot to be said for it unless you lack any self awareness and suffer from a severe psychological disorder (ahem). Its roots stretch even beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and into Nietzschean philosophy, which focuses on autonomy, freedom from feelings of shame and guilt, and the necessity of developing one’s talents. And nowadays, I really don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t have at least one hobby, or a skill that they take pride in, that they identify themselves with. Given that our talents are probably one of the things that are (almost)  guaranteed  to last your entire lifetime as friends come and go, people are born and others die, economies and political systems change, bombs go off, they should really be our most prized possession.

After fully understanding its importance in this way, I’ve been wondering more and more how to make time for my human potential and I to get better acquainted, to figure our the “stuff” it’s made of. How do I approach my potential in order to make the most of it? When I write, for instance, should I be challenging myself more, treating it like a beast to be pinned down? What thought patterns and habits need to be destroyed so I can get the upper hand? Or should I approach it like I’m walking into a garden, gently trimming leaves and pulling the weeds of procrastination and anxiety?

I know that I used to think of my time spent with myself as a vast sea of white: blinding, terrifying, and impossible. I used to turn away often, grab for my phone or forget it all together. Now, if I have the chance, after or before work, I sit. For hours, with a part of myself so strange and unknown, but exciting nonetheless. I may have to sprint to get there, scramble up my wages and just hope that everything’s okay, but it’s worth it to meet this enticing “beast.”

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“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.