How do you go about realising your potential?
Our dominant cultural assumptions about personal and organisational development are usually about reaching goals; striving with effort; solving problems; constantly achieving… We are all looking for something, and often what we do is focus on The Next Big Thing To Achieve, rather than stepping back and looking at the pattern of our searching and striving, where there is always yearning, longing, and potential exhaustion.
Yet is there another way? I’d like to share three versions of a traditional story that illustrate something I believe to be important…
Once upon a time there was a poor couple living in a humble shack on a small piece of land. They had very little. They lived in great poverty for many years, always hoping for their situation to improve. As it turns out, they were in fact already very wealthy, but they did not know it.
In one version of the story, the couple have, beneath their shack, a golden candlestick. But they do not know it is there. They need someone with knowledge to tell them it is there. Then they need to put in lots of effort to pull down their shack, dig beneath their foundations, discover eventually the candlestick, clean it up, and then they will be wealthy at last.
In another version of the story, things are easier. The candlestick is already on their table. It is right in front of them, but unfortunately it is absolutely covered with grime, dirt and crud. They need to realise that underneath the crud is a thing of great value, and then to spend some time gradually and carefully cleaning it, removing all the dirt, and then they will be wealthy.
In the other story, the couple have a candlestick on their table. It is perfectly clean. It is sitting there shining, gleaming right in front of them as it has been for many years. The only problem is that they think it is cheap brass. There is nothing they need to do at all, other than realise that what they already have, and always have had, is pure gold.”
This traditional story is told to illustrate the view of Dzogchen - the Buddhist Path of Great Perfection. The story is a touchstone for reflecting on different views, paths and approaches to life and the nature of inner work we may need to engage in…
These stories throw up questions about how we realise our full potential. Do we find ourselves waiting for someone else to set us goals, tell us where to put in effort to unearth our “gold”? Do we find ourselves constantly striving and expending effort, getting exhausted in the process? Do we believe in our own innate value or have a sense of being not good enough? How do we find fulfilment?
And what is the place of ‘the day job’ in this? Work is an arena where many of our issues about ourselves show up – issues related to ambition, success and failure, money and reward, being valued, feeling in control, and more… As such, exploring who we are at work can be a gateway for transformation in a way that has personal as well as wider organisational and social significance.
Perhaps we need to rethink the relationship between inner work on ourselves, and the world of work? And what if we became more aware and creatively critical of our own pattern of striving?