Is there a cost to reaching our full potential?

So many of us spend our lives rushing around, jumping from one task to the next with scant regard for the strain we’re putting on our minds and bodies by not giving them a rest from time to time. But if we spend too much time resting will we ever achieve our full potential?

According to Dictionary.com, potential is defined as “possible, as opposed to actual,” or “capable of being or becoming.” Would it not follow, therefore, that to reach one’s full potential one must be entirely capable of becoming their best self? And that to be entirely capable one must be entirely focused all of the time – thus relinquishing leisure pursuits and anything unrelated to the ultimate goal?

Take wanting to be a published author as an example; it’s all very well wanting it, but if you don’t have the drive and determination to stick at it when the going gets tough how can you expect to succeed? It’s a well-known fact that even JK Rowling herself was rejected countless times before finally reaching the heady heights of success. She achieved her potential only by working through the low moments instead of giving up, and rising, Phoenix-like from the ashes of the rejection pile to come back stronger and more inspired than before.

Of course the danger of not resting enough is burn-out. It would clearly be unwise to never take a break from your desk, because your productivity levels would suffer due to tiredness. Nobody can concentrate for eight hours in a row – well, maybe David Blaine, but apart from him no one (surely?)

The key to achieving your potential, then, is simple (and best said in the words of the great Winston Churchill himself): Never, never, never,never give up. Unless, that is, you are in dire need of a rest. And, perhaps, an accompanying glass of chilled Pinot Grigio. And on that note…

I think this is the best photo I’ve ever taken, and it perfectly encapsulates the concept of never giving up. This was part of an exhibition at the London Zoo – ants are just the most amazing creatures!

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Welcome to a runner’s worst nightmare…

When my alarm went off at 6am this morning I was unimpressed (to say the least), and wondered momentarily just how bad it would be if I didn’t turn up to the Wholefoods run I’d spent the last ten weeks training for. But I somehow managed to peel myself out of bed and get my stuff together in time for the 7am taxi pick up.

As we drove towards Kingston I was naively optimistic that the weather may not be as bad as predicted after all, but by the time we pulled up in the market square the snow was falling and it was nothing short of freezing. Clusters of runners stood in every doorway, huddled together for warmth and staring at one another forlornly whispering, ‘why are we doing this again?’

By the time the 16 mile race started I could no longer feel my fingers and was starting to doubt my ability to complete the race (never a good thing at the very beginning), but before I knew it the horn had sounded and we were off. Once my body temperature began to rise I settled into a comfortable stride for the first eight or nine miles, quite enjoying the scenic part of the route beside the river (less so the rather more grim road section).

By mile ten, however, I was struggling – badly. The cold had crept into my bones and my hip joints were so sore I felt like a 90 year old. I’ve never felt pain like that in my hips before (in all of my training runs they’ve never so much as ached – mind you, if it was ever below five degrees in my training runs I tended to exercise in the gym. Oops) and was unsure what to do, so I slowed down for a couple of miles to try and ease the pain. When I realised it wasn’t going anywhere I changed tack and opted to run as fast as I could manage until the finish line, figuring I could at least then stop and rest.

Fortunately the strategy paid off and through gritty determination, sheer bullishness and an inordinately large amount of sugar-based stimulants I made it across the finish line – in a respectable 2 hours and 31 minutes and 29 seconds. I had hoped for a sub 2:30 time, but given the horrendous conditions I’ll let myself off.

It’s a miracle I’ve managed to drag myself to the computer to type this given how much pain I’m now in – walking up the stairs feels like as big a challenge as climbing Mount Everest right now, but it was worth it (I think). If not for the glory of completing the race, then for the huge amounts of roast lamb and chocolate cake I was treated to by my parents afterwards 🙂

Important lesson for next time (yes, I’ve already signed up for another race – this time a half marathon, Run to the Beat, which is at least in September so can’t possibly be as cold as it was today. RIGHT?): Train outdoors even if it’s cold so the unpredictable English weather doesn’t screw you over totally on race day. At this rate I may be loaded onto the plane to New York in a wheelchair on Tuesday (note to Jen: I won’t!!)…

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The bag like any other

Before Christmas I went shopping for a new handbag. Not being a materialistic person I had waited until my previous handbag was, in wardrobe years, the equivalent of an incontinent 90 year human before accepting it was time to move on, so the task at hand was pressing to say the least.

So there I was in the handbag department of Debenhams, surrounded by row upon row of leather, pleather, patent, snakeskin, dogtooth – the list goes on – searching for the one bag that would accompany me home.

I said I wasn’t materialistic and that is true, but it’s not to say that on the rare occasions I do treat myself to a pair of shoes or handbag I don’t want them/it to be special. Not expensive, but a bit different – original.

But on this day, try as I might I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. This put me in a considerable dilemma, for my current bag was on the verge of popping off to handbag heaven, and waiting for a future shopping excursion may well mean risking an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction (which, let’s face it, would almost certainly happen on a packed commuter train to or from work).

After quite some time deliberating, and with extreme reluctance, I chose a small black tote bag made of shiny rain mac material, with light brown leather handles and bottom, and a silver buckle clasp. It was, I knew with depressing certainty, a bag like any other bag – the kind you see ten a penny of every single day on the underground. Worse, it was the style of bag often touted by posh girls from Chelsea with names like Tallulah and Cheska (only without the designer label and obscene price tag theirs would obviously have).

Feeling glum, I trudged towards the counter with my selection. I stopped half way to take one last glance around the room, hoping by some miracle the perfect bag which had up to this point evaded me would somehow make itself known, before it was too late. And there it was. On a low hanging branch of a display unit, the last of its kind – tasteful dark brown leopard print material with a dark two tone leather flap and silver buckle. In that moment – and many moments since – I truly thought it was the most beautiful bag I had ever seen.

I stooped to pluck it from its perch, checked the price tag and, delighted to find it more than affordable, beat a hasty path to the counter to complete the purchase. Needless to say, the bag like any other was returned to its original location for some unsuspecting soul with lower aspirations than me to pick up and buy.

You will probably be wondering by now why on earth I’ve written five hundred words about buying a handbag. Well, it’s because last night, as I waited for my tube train to arrive, it occurred to me the bag like any other wasn’t just a story, it was an analogy for life. So many people pick a job like any other, a partner like any other – they take the path of least resistance, the one that will provide a decent return but won’t excite or challenge them.

We only get one shot at life, so why do so many of us settle for less than the best for ourselves? Why don’t we take risks, pick partners that excite us, occupations that challenge us? Why do we let ourselves drift and then feel surprise when we wake up one day wondering where our lives went?

I’m so glad I didn’t settle for less than I wanted that day, and I’m determined never to settle for less than I want – and deserve – in life.

After all, who wants a bag – or a life – like any other when, if you search a bit harder, you can find one that’s unique?

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This bag signifies so much more than just a handbag – it signifies the importance of waiting for the right opportunities in life to present themselves, rather than reacting to the most obvious ones. It’s also very pretty, right?