Living Up to Your Full Potential?

I’ve been feeling lately that I’m not “living up to my full potential”.  I’ve heard this phrase my whole life.  It’s a family/societal expectation. Yes, I know I’m trying to stop feeling like I need to live up to (what I perceive as) family/societal expectations!  But, I’ve been seeing this phrase a lot lately and every time it catches me and I feel not good enough.   What exactly does the phrase “living up to your full potential” mean in retirement?

I worry that I’m not “living up to my full potential” when I’m not pursuing a second career, not actively promoting my book & becoming a speaker/life coach, not doing regular volunteer work, not executing an every day exercise program, not finding my creative passion, not creating a legacy with young people or kids, or not traveling extensively – all the things you are “supposed to do in retirement” – The Full Potential of Retirement.


Recently I read this statement: “Retirement is the time to dream about all the roads untraveled, the untapped potential within you, all the life you still have to live. You need to know what makes you happy and what you need to do to make that happen.” Again, there’s that untapped (full) potential!

I think I prefer to focus on what makes me happy. I know I am happier when I am active, eating more healthy (including doing the healthy cooking sometimes), and connecting with folks either on-line or IRL – walking & conversation, eating & conversion, etc. I like to be with others in small groups to go out & about. I enjoy a calendar of events that keeps me as busy as I choose to be.

I’m coming to accept that I don’t really want to work – not a second career nor a part-time job nor being a life coach. I just don’t want that level of commitment. I’m struggling to find regular volunteer work that doesn’t feel like a should-commitment. I’m just not a go-to-the-gym every day person (not even a go-to-the-gym twice a week person). I’m not sure I have a passion inside me just waiting to be tapped.

It’s hard for me to let go of the things I think I’m “supposed to do in retirement”,  acknowledging that they are merely societal expectations.  Yet, I look back at my retirement notes and see phrases like:

  • Accept the reality of who I am, and stop trying to be something I’m not.


  • Live the life you were meant to, not the one other’s expect you to.


I continue to practice changing long-held beliefs and thought patterns.

  • I try to be aware of when I’m feeling incompetent or less than/not good enough and challenging the reality of the situation. I need to continue to focus on my strengths and interests (even if I have to just read that list it took months to create!) and not do the “Compare and Despair.”
  • I try to be aware of when I’m feeling an excessive desire to please, being over-reliant on others opinions, or an over-compliance with others wishes and instead ask, “Do I really want to do that myself?”
  • I try to be aware of over-thinking things and second-guessing. I am trying to live more in the moment and let things happen.


Yes, all of these are try to… and require active awareness of my thoughts and reactions! So maybe “living up to my full potential” is becoming someone who feels they are good enough (all the time), becoming someone who isn’t trying to please everybody else (self-validation), and becoming someone who is happy with her life, in the moment, every day.  

Yes, as it’s been said: “Do the best you can with what you have, where you are.” 

Maybe that truly is living up to your full potential. 

34 thoughts on “Living Up to Your Full Potential?

  1. So, last time I checked, there is no such thing as a “full potential meter”. I understand the intent behind that phrase, but really, IMHO, your full potential is unknown and unknowable. How would you even approach quantifying that? It would have to be divided up into segments of your life for one thing. Even then, how would one ever know when one had maximized their “potential”? I believe that we are all capable of much more than we allow ourselves to attempt, but honestly, how would one ever know the limit?

    An example for me is that I believe I could have been a world-class scientist if I had been single-mindedly devoted to that outcome. I would have maximized my full potential intellectually. However, I would have had to neglect other aspects of my humanity such as being a dad. As it was, I chose to get married and work in industry. This allowed me to be the father of four awesome human beings and do some pretty good technical work, though nothing could ever be published because of “trade secret” considerations. Did I live up to my full potential as a dad? I hope so. I know I made mistakes, but as you noted, I did the best I could in the situation at hand. Did I live up to my full potential as a scientist? Probably not, but that was a conscious trade-off.

    I could go through every category in my life and make a rough assessment of whether I had done the best I could given the circumstances, but I am not going to lose any sleep about whether I have achieved my “full potential”.

    My posture is one of continuous learning and improvement in every area that matters to me. As long as I maintain that outlook and manage to be a good husband, father, friend and neighbor (in the larger sense), then I will be content and I won’t waste even a single second worrying about whether I have lived up to the mythical “full potential”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob, The true scientist… looking for a full-potential meter! Made me think about work and it was all about what we measured. I’m coming to realize that being content and continuing to learn is exactly where I need to be right now.


  2. We seem to be on the same wavelength. I’m also getting tired of trying to live up to my potential. I just wrote about not wanting to reinvent myself. Maybe I’ve already reached my potential, and a happy financially solvent chilled retirement is the reward!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pat,
    I think we were twins in another life. Or, you read my mind.
    I have these thoughts of “wasted potential” and “not good enough” all the time.
    And, like you, I am actively working on accepting myself and what I want to do, rather than what others expect me to do, including the experts.
    There’s a lot of advice out there, even from other bloggers, that sometimes gets in my head that I should be doing more. I have to filter…there is only so much I can or want to do in this third age.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nancy, I totally understand about all the advice out there and I’ve been trying to temper my own blogs a lot more with “this is right for me, but it might not be right for you”. I know I often perceive the advice I receive as critique, when it really is just information. Accepting myself and being happy with my lifestyle choices is what’s important. But I also know it’s often an uphill battle to not Compare & Despair, to not react to societal expectations, and to not feel I’m doing it wrong/inadequately when they publish another report on healthy aging best practices.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Pat, I write about potential all of the time, and I believe in fulfilling your potential. That doesn’t mean society’s definition of potential, it means what you see as your potential best life. If your deepest heart desire is to sit and do nothing but knit all day, then that is your right and if you are happy, you are fulfilling your potential. I agree with you here, “So maybe “living up to my full potential” is becoming someone who feels they are good enough (all the time), becoming someone who isn’t trying to please everybody else (self-validation), and becoming someone who is happy with her life, in the moment, every day. ” That sounds like potential filled to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s about dropping societal expectations, which is often associated with the phrase. I am continuing to work on feeling I am enough and looking at self-validation of my lifestyle choices. I was at a dinner last night seated next to an old colleague who started a consulting company and is working a lot of projects… I refused to do a Compare & Despair and feel less-than. I feel proud of that today!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. As I’ve mentioned before (and below), I was a “meet expectations” kinda girl for years… so it is a hard habit to break. But I am working on it and having my blogging friends support me in the habit change is helpful!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Pat, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts with us, it’s not always easy to do. I agree with Leanne’s suggestion…get on board with her and enjoy the opportunity that being ‘unbusy’ brings. So many people do not have, and never will have that opportunity. It’s really a blessing. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candi, a great addition. I am always grateful for the abundance and blessings I have in my life. I never really contemplated that the option to be un-busy was also an opportunity many do not have.


  6. Pat I think it’s time to jump back on the Unbusy Bus with me and stop beating yourself up over not feeling a desire to be busy, busy, busy. I’m SO tired of thinking that I have to constantly be productive to have valud – now I’m working on the fact that I have value just by being comfortable in myself and contributing where it feels right. No gym memberships, nothing forced, just going with the flow – that’s my idea of an unbusy retirement.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I bounce back and forth with embracing the un-busy mindset and feeling less-than for not meeting expectations. Since I was a meet-expectation girl for 50+ years, that habit is hard to break! A work in progress…. and getting positive support on posts like these helps me continue to break that old habit.


  7. Pat, I don’t even know what to say. I mean, you just published a book!!! I think you need a break from your own expectations. Not lecturing, because I do relate. I still have days when I ask myself, “is this really all you are going to do today?” But then I get an offer to do freelance writing and just don’t want to be bothered to collect all the writing samples they’ve asked for. It’s taken me a couple of years, but I’m starting to fully appreciate that I retired because I don’t want to work anymore. I want to read blogs like yours, watch movies, read books, take a class now and then, do low stress volunteer stuff and travel. Keep on making yourself happy and thanks for your thought provoking words! Tracey

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tracy – OK, you made me laugh out loud. I could hear your tone in the “I mean, you published a book!!” I needed that. I also love your litany of things… I too want to read blogs, read books, take a class now and then…. plus I’ll add for me… food shop at my favorite boutique stores, do yoga and crossword puzzles, go on mini-adventures in town, see a play, and play in the garden. Yeah, I have a happy, full life and need to stop perceiving “expectations”!


  8. How will we know when we’ve reached “full potential”? As you know, but struggle with, it’s whatever you want it to be. If you’re happy, then you’re there. As long as “happy” means not comparing yourself to others. Unless when you’re comparing, you choose to see that you have it so much better than they do!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I chuckled at the only compare yourself when you know you have it better. I’m realizing that I’m still doing Compare & Despair too often, especially on what I perceive to be the “should of retirement” which is of course the full potential of retirement. You know – the passion project that’s turned into a money making business, joining the board of another one of your favorite non-profits, the boosted exercise program resulting in running and winning races, the 4 times a year jaunts to the best travel locations plus learning a new language beforehand, and the move to the downsized, de-cluttered, age-in-place home with an amazing view. Sigh… not the comparing and having it better. Oh dear.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have always found this phrase of living up to your full potential problematic. Who knows what your full potential is? There is no way to measure this, and even if you could would you really want to achieve all that suggests? I liked it when you said you are slowly realizing that you do not want to work anymore. Maybe its because I have finally accepted that I also don’t want to work anymore either. Many days I am even resentful when there is an obligation in my calendar that I have to do. Right now I prefer to let the day unwind the way it will as I meander through it. That is a major retirement achievement for me. BTW I just got your book in the mail yesterday and one day soon I will sit down to read it. Looking forward to that very much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fran, I am still learning how to enjoy a meandering day. I’m not sure I could do them all the time, but I have come to love having 1-2 of them a week! We were super busy all weekend, and now I’m feeling a huge sense of peace just chilling and looking at blogs.

      And thanks for getting my book! Do let me know, when you get into it, your reaction to it.


  10. Hi Patricia. You are doing a good job with your blog, which takes a lot of time and effort. You are helping others through their transitions too, mine included!

    My transition has been a long one. Having been made redundant in 2014 and only now able to claim a pension. I may well follow your lead, commit less, do less work, less study, and get back to the blogosphere soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, Pat – Do we ever truly live up to our FULL potential? Even when we are extremely driven and focussed, we can all only focus on so many things at a time, while other things fall escape us. You are a wife, a friend, a survivor and a published author. You write and maintain a thought-provoking blog. You are a reader and a thinker. You examine and reexamine your priorities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’d say you are living life veery fully and more!


    1. Donna, isn’t it so true that others often see us better than we see ourselves. Thanks for the pep talk! I’m learning when I perceive expectations (and perceive judgement) in what people say, and stopping the gut reaction of feeling not-enough….or at least recognizing it’s happening and why. Having a litany of my tip of the iceberg “who I am” will help in those moments!


      1. Good morning Pat. I’m going to be thinking about this post all day long (all week long?). The thing is, who exactly, decides what our potential is – and does that bar or level change as we age and pass through different life seasons? When used by too many folk, “potential” has judgmental overtones and there is little room in this life for those. Bliss is “becoming someone who is happy with her life, in the moment, every day.” Beautiful writing! Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Pamela, I was a “meet or exceed expectations girl” for most of my life. So I am very aware of full-potential-expectations… even for someone in retirement. My challenge is I sometimes “hear” judgmental overtones when they might not be there. (love that phrase – gonna steal it!) And as many have said – and we all need reminding of – everyone’s retirement lifestyle will be different based on their interests. So yes, be happy with your life!


      3. It was only recently that I realized I “hear” judgmental undertones (overtones?) when they might not even be there! That awareness has been amazingly helpful… sometimes people are simply asking a question out of curiosity and connection or providing information… they are not judging your choices.


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