John Maxwell: Take Flight

UPDATED: April 2, 2009
PUBLISHED: April 2, 2009

My belief about potential is that all people have within them a seed for success. However, relatively few people ever realize their success potential. People possess 100 acres of possibilities, yet too many keep only 1 acre under cultivation. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.” Let me give you a visual example to better illustrate.

I think most of us are like a hot-air balloon. On each side of the carrier basket there are sandbags, the only things keeping the balloon from going into the stratosphere. In our lives, we have sandbags that hold us down and keep us from reaching our potential.

I want to encourage you to take off some of your sandbags to give you higher lift in your life. However, I don’t want you to be like Larry Walters.

Larry Walters was a risk-taker who wanted to fly. He filled 45 weather balloons with helium, tied them to his tethered lawn chair and dubbed the vehicle “The Inspiration One.” Do you see where this is headed? Next, he strapped himself in with some sandwiches, light beer and a pellet gun.

Larry’s plan was to lazily fly up to about 30 feet above his backyard, where he would enjoy a few hours of flight before coming down. Instead, he streaked into the Los Angeles sky as if he were shot from a cannon. After climbing and climbing, he leveled off at 16,000 feet. That’s three miles up!

Eventually, he gathered up the nerve to shoot a few balloons and slowly descended in the night sky. With the hanging balloon tethers tangled, he caught on a power line, blacking out a 20-mile area of Long Beach, Calif. When Larry climbed down to safety, he was arrested by waiting members of the Los Angeles Police Department. A reporter dispatched to cover the story asked him why he had done it. Larry replied nonchalantly, “A man just can’t sit around.”

I imagine you don’t want to end up like Larry, but I bet you desire to rise up and fl y in your personal and professional life. As I have looked at people who for some reason or another did not reach their possibilities, here are some of the things I’ve noticed. See if you relate to any of them.

No. 1: CHOICES Many times people make choices that limit them. In fact, one of my favorite expressions about choices is the choice you make… makes you.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called Talent Is Never Enough that emphasizes the importance of choices. Have you ever known people blessed with many God-given talents yet aren’t very successful? I can almost guarantee one of the reasons is the choices they have made. Talent plus right choices equals a talent-plus person. In other words, the choices we make with our talent are what help us become successful. Initiative activates your talent. When we initiate, it jump-starts our talent.

No. 2: SHORTCUTS Many times, people don’t reach their potential because they have no idea the process will take so long. There is a saying by Saadi that I like that goes, “Have patience. All things are diffi cult before they become easy.”

No matter what projects or goals we have in our lives, we need to stop microwaving them. Instead, we need to be like a Crock-Pot, where our thoughts and ideas have time to simmer and sauté. I think a lot of us don’t reach our potential because we have a time issue and we want to shortcut the process. And shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run.

No. 3: COST Success has a cost. Many people fail to pay the price that their potential demands. In my book Leadership Gold, I talk about giving up something for everything you gain. What I have discovered is that at every kind of crossroads we come to in life, we have to make a trade-off; we have to give up something very important to us to achieve something much more worthwhile.

Fred Smith, a wonderful mentor of mine who passed away last year, said something to me that I will never forget.

He said: Human nature tempts us to stay where we’re comfortable. We try to find a plateau, a resting place, where we have comfortable stress and adequate finances. Where we have comfortable associations with people, without intimidation of meeting new people and entering strange situations. Of course, all of us need to plateau for a time. We climb, and then we plateau for assimilation. But once we’ve assimilated what we’ve learned, we climb again.… Many times, our challenges in life are not in understanding; they are in doing.

There is a tremendous gap between knowing and doing. Charles Schwab said, “When a man has put a limit on what he will do, he has put a limit on what he can do.” Our attitude affects our ability.

No. 4: PROBLEMS Often, I think we fail to reach our potential because problems have a way of holding us back. However, there is a difference between problem-spotting and problem-solving. Have you not found that most people in an organization can spot a problem? Problem spotting is very easy. Problem-solving—now that’s what the world needs more of.

When people come to me with a problem, I kindly ask them to give me three suggestions for solving it. And one of the solutions has to involve them. I have found this to be a very effective way to cut down on problem-spotting and increase problem-solving. It’s quite amazing to see a person’s attitude change when they are held accountable for their own solutions.

Key to Reaching Potential: HAVE MORE SOLID REASONS I had dinner about a year ago with a good friend out in Las Vegas when I was speaking at a convention. I was telling him about a book I was writing at the time, Put Your Dream to the Test, and as I was talking to him about how you help people reach their dreams, my friend said something to me I will never forget: “John, the key to reaching your potential is having more solid reasons for reaching your potential than reasons against reaching it.” Isn’t that true?

Here’s what I want you to understand: When you have more reasons to reach your dream than you have reasons for not reaching it, you begin to tip the scale. You must have the courage to believe in yourself. Sure, you may experience fear along the way. But if you have more faith than fear, I’m confi dent you will still take the risk; you’ll still be able to achieve what you set your mind to.

Release the sandbags in your life, gain some altitude and see where your dreams can take you.