John C. Maxwell: 5 Tips to Unlock Your Potential

UPDATED: May 10, 2016
PUBLISHED: January 7, 2015

How would your life change if you suddenly had $100 million? What would you do with the money?

Stumped? You’re not the only one.

In September J.J. Watt, a 25-year-old lineman for the Houston Texans, became the highest-paid defensive player in National Football League history when he signed a $100 million contract extension. Afterward, a friend suggested he buy something to celebrate. But Watt had no idea what to purchase.

Get this: He actually Googled “What do rich people buy?”

When that story leaked out, it went viral faster than you can say “tweet.” The young millionaire found himself fielding questions about his now-famous search. “I don’t feel like a rich person, and I don’t really try to act like a rich person, so I don’t know what they buy,” Watt told Fox News reporter Laura Okmin. “I didn’t really like the stuff I saw, so I think I’m going to stick to my humble lifestyle.”

Watt wasn’t always on the superstar track. Early in his college career, he took a season off and worked as a pizza delivery guy in his hometown of Pewaukee, Wis. (population 13,600), while attending junior college. When he put his cleats back on, he paid his own way at the University of Wisconsin, put in more work, and within two years was named an All-American. In 2011 he became the No. 11 overall pick in the NFL draft.

“I’d like to know where you get this kind of character,” mused talk-radio host Glenn Beck. “Because if $100 million doesn’t change you, that’s remarkable.”

Watt didn’t know what to do with the money. Would the money do something with him?

It sure did—and probably the opposite of what you would expect. It made Watt want to work even harder. “The way I look at it is that somebody in the world, no matter what your field is—teacher, violinist, football player—has to be the best,” Watt told writer Robert Mays. “Why not me?”

What a line! Someone has to be the best—why not  me?

I can relate to the young man. My biggest passion in life has been pursuing my potential. I may not be able to become the best in the world, but I can become my best. That’s what keeps me going strong, even at the age of 67. I regularly take on tasks that cause me to grow and stretch. I like being in over my head because it keeps me sharp and pushes me to give my full effort.

Becoming your best self is part attitude and part strategy. I can’t help you with attitude, because that comes from within. But I can offer tips on how to unlock your potential and reach your goals.

Focus on your strengths. This is really simple: You’re good at some stuff. You are not-so-good at other stuff. Focus on the stuff you’re good at. Where you are naturally good, you have the potential to become great if you put time into developing those talents. Conversely, if you get too wrapped up in worrying about your weaknesses, you’re probably wasting time and energy.

Focus on today. One of my favorite sayings is, “Yesterday ended last night.” It doesn’t matter whether yesterday was good or bad. It’s over. Don’t get stuck there. For that matter, don’t think too much about the future, either. You can’t change the past; you can’t mold the future. But you can influence what happens right now. Give the present day your full attention and best effort.

Focus on your priorities. Protect your calendar! Your daily agenda can be turned upside down by others and the many requests they send your way. Be selective about what you do because you can’t do it all. As the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.” Choose your priorities and use your time to accomplish them.

Focus on your results. It’s easy to become tired or frustrated when the work is hard and the journey long. If you start feeling aimless, make like a 4-year-old and pester yourself with questions. What am I working toward? Why am I trying to achieve it? Why does it matter? Reminding yourself of your purpose will keep you focused on the big picture, and your drive to succeed will triumph over adversity.

Focus on your contribution. The best version of you will emerge when you decide to use your potential to make the world a better place. As author Steve Maraboli says, “You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self…. Do it courageously.” Be bold and be you. Improve yourself and improve your world.

Watt is still young, and his contribution to football still emerging. But his aspirations are entirely clear. Just consider this play from the second game of the 2014 season:

On the team’s opening drive, Watt lined up as a tight end and slipped past the Oakland Raiders’ defense, into the end zone where he caught quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass for a 1-yard touchdown. Watt is a defensive player by trade; it was his first touchdown since high  school.

In a postgame interview, Watt said, “My goal in the offseason is to create the best athlete I can create and give it to the coaches and say, ‘Here, use it how you want it.’ Today they used it a little bit on offense.”

Watt’s efforts match his personal motto: Dream Big, Work Hard.

What about you? Are you dreaming big and working hard? Are you working every day to reach your potential? After all, someone has to be the best. Why not you?

So, are you working hard toward your goals, or are you just coasting? Check out 5 tips to help you stay committed and push hard to the finish line.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.