What matters more? Potential or achievement?
This has been coming up for me a lot lately in my daily life and my reading.
I believe most of us tend to judge ourselves based on what we have or haven’t achieved — but in the contexts that have the most daily, real-world consequences (the workplace, interpersonal relationships, etc.), other people actually tend to judge us on our potential.
Imagine a business owner interviewing a new hire. Achievement matters, yes — but in the end, the person is more likely hired based on what the business owner believes they will achieve for the company. In other words, their potential.
The more I dig into this, the more I see there is a difference between men and women here. Men are judged more on their potential than women are in the workplace, for example. But this isn’t a rant — this is an exploration.
So let’s explore.
What if we judged ourselves based on our potential instead of our achievement?
In Shop Class as Soulcraft, author Matthew B. Crawford says, “Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.” The whole book is a bit of a dig at modern culture, a statement that we’ve lost our appreciation for the value of craftsmanship.
I’m obsessed with the idea of mastery — of dedicating yourself to one path and continuing to learn and grow in that one single area. Most people think of mastery as the height of skill, as reaching the pinnacle of something. Really, though, mastery is about continued learning and growth — and then eventually taking that accrued knowledge and experience and stepping off of the set path to create something unique.
Mastery is looking forward instead of backward. To me, this aligns well with the notion of potential.
Achievement represents your experience, and potential paves the path forward. Achievement is stationary in that way, while potential is endless evolution — and while they both have value, I think only potential truly gives us hope for a better future.
While I enjoyed his book, Crawford’s quote above reveals a common dichotomy in thinking. In this case, placing achievement above potential. But we all start somewhere. Working hard to learn and grow has inherent value, and we can do that before we achieve anything.
I say, hang those achievements on the wall proudly — but don’t judge yourself by them. If you’re going to judge yourself by anything, make it your potential.