Discovering Your Own Definition of Potential 

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” –Confucius

What does the word “potential” mean to you personally?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines potential as “possible as opposed to actual; having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future; latent; prospective.” This definition is useful, but it doesn’t tell us how one can actually discover and reach their full potential.

Tips to Help You Define and Discover Your Potential

“Am I reaching my full potential?” is not the same as asking “How do I get to the top?” Instead, potential asks you to look at how you personally define success and then to explore and find your unique and individual path to get there.

Review the following tips to help you discover your own definition of potential and what success and potential truly mean to you.

1. Know Yourself

Assess your current skills and performance by writing down some of your greatest strengths and weaknesses. This involves necessary reflection, asking for specific feedback, and being receptive to input from (hopefully) a variety of people in a variety of contexts. This should be an ongoing process; and it will take time, humility, and a willingness to confront your shortcomings and fears. However, people can and do change and improve after recognizing both their strengths and weaknesses. Make the decision to change and grow and it will help you move forward.

2. Excel at Critical Tasks

It is difficult to succeed and to reach your potential if you don’t excel at central and necessary tasks. This sounds simple, but many people fail to identify activities that lead to success in their lives, whether that be personal, academic, or workplace success. Identifying these tasks can assist you in matching priorities with success and can foster discipline, better time management, and confidence.

3. Demonstrate Character and Leadership

Character and leadership often make the difference between good performance and great performance. Pillars of good character include trustworthiness,

respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship (to name a few). Leaders are willing to do things for others without regard to what’s in it for them. Being a leader also means being willing to speak up, even if you have to express an unpopular view. Spend more time thinking about who you truly are and what you truly believe rather than what others want you to be or say.

4. Set Goals and Benchmarks

Narrow in on what you’d like to accomplish, even if these are just short-term goals. Take baby steps, brainstorm ways to get to where you want to be, and seek out mentors. Keep a success list to remind yourself that you are good enough. Don’t ever think your accomplishments are too small to be proud of. It is easy to think that when you compare yourself to others, so try not to. 

5. Don’t Doubt Yourself

Although this is super cliché, you really need to believe in yourself to reach your potential. You are good enough to do anything you want in life. Remember that you are good enough and never give up. If you want something, do whatever it takes to get it. As Dori from Finding Nemo says, sometimes you have to just keep swimming.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Located directly above the WVU Bookstore in the Mountainlair, Career Services is a University-wide resource for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as alumni. They are here to help students and alumni explore and identify career goals, develop professional skills and discover employment and continuing education opportunities.

If you need some help reaching your full professional potential, visit WVU Career Services in the Mountainlair Monday–Friday 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Contact Information: 304-293-2221 | |

Courtesy of Harvard Business Review (Reaching Your Potential—Robert Steven Kaplan)