Live Up To Your Full Potential


Be warned! This is not gonna be your typical post on this topic. Usually when I read something about living up to your potential, I’m given a list of how to accomplish this, and loads of encouragement to be the very best you can be at something. Well, I’m here to redefine this phrase.

Continuing to explore A Career of Art vs. A Life of Art, I’ve discovered that my perceived inability to establish a full-time, money making art career has left me feeling like I’m not living up to my full potential. Let me describe a couple of real-life interactions I’ve had:

Several years ago I was in a regular figure drawing group. I sometimes drew the entire figure of the model, but would often zero in on the model’s face and draw just his/her portrait in charcoal. I love charcoal, especially with faces…it’s such an expressive medium. A gal who often drew at her easel beside me, seemed to like what I did and would ask questions. She seemed eager to learn to draw faces and expressed a desire to become a portrait artist.

Fast forward a year or two… I signed up for a proper portrait class in our area taught by a couple of fantastic artists. This gal had also signed up and on the first day she quizzed me about how I was doing as an artist, was I selling my work and doing a lot of portrait commissions.  I told her I would enter a show and do a commission every now and then, but was very busy with raising my kids, teaching knitting and crochet classes, etc. What came out of her mouth next has stuck in my brain. “What a waste”, she said. “The very people who are so good at portrait drawing just don’t see it and never make something of their art. It’s such a waste of talent. You could really go places with the gift you have.”

Another interaction was with two other artist friends in a drawing group I was a part of in recent years. These two artists are incredible at drawing, I mean really incredible. They are older than I am and would regularly speak of artists who “make it big” as being so much better than they. At one point, one of them said, “I guess I just never really lived up to my potential. I can’t do anything about that now. It’s too late.”

My heart broke for these two artists in light of what I knew about them. They had both lived and were living very full lives, one had been a professor of art, the other a mom and artist who was a catalyst for starting a vibrant drawing group in Winston-Salem that has been well-attended for many years now. And I also thought of myself, and the above comment that rings in my ears. It left me wondering what would it mean to really live up to my full potential? Does this mean that I must show to the world all that I am capable of in artistic technical ability? Does this mean that I need to make a ton of money from my paintings and drawings? Does it mean that I create museum and gallery worthy artwork? What exactly does this phrase <live up to your full potential>  mean? And in light of how elusive a career in art has been for me, does this mean I will die never having lived up to this potential, whatever it is?

And one more interaction to share with you: Just a few months ago, right before I landed in the hospital, a dear friend of mine who is an amazing artist and runs her own counseling business, came to visit me as I was hoping to get better at home, taking the meds prescribed to me. She was sitting in a chair looking through one of my sketchbooks and I was saying something about the “real art” I’ll make one day. She asked about this “real art”. “Oh, you know, the big paintings, the canvases, the major works that I will one day be free to make!” She said she knew what I was talking about and understood. Then she said this, “But Jennifer, THIS is the real art. All this in these sketchbooks. The drawings and paintings of your everyday life…THIS is it!” And I had to hold back the tears, as the profound words sank in.

What if we redefined what this whole potential thing really meant? What if, instead of having to prove our creative selves in a particular area of art, we could reach our potential by simply living artfully? What if, instead of striving to make lots of money with our art, or show just how technically perfect we could draw… what if we engaged in our everyday lives with an artful eye, probing the moments for beauty? What if, we reached our potential by daily living the life WE HAVE, the good and the bad, the mundane and the magical, with open arms and full hearts, celebrating and capturing some of it in an artful manner along the way? What if living up to our potential as artists had MORE to do with seeing the beauty in all of life and sharing it with one or more persons, than with being able to say we have devoted our whole lives to making a career of x or y or z.

In the hospital, as I realized just how close I had come to not making it through the ordeal, my thoughts were NOT, “I would’ve missed making those paintings and drawings, or knitting that sweater or crocheting that blanket.” NO! My thoughts were, “Oh how I would’ve missed seeing my kids continue to grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. How sad I would be not to grow old with Randy.”  It was a wonderful realignment of perspective. But as I grow stronger and healthier, the old “achilles heel” wants to flare up and entice me down the “gotta make something of yourself” path. I’m not gonna have it! As Robert Frost so beautifully wrote:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

and that has  made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost

0 thoughts on “Live Up To Your Full Potential

  1. Shirley Levine says:

    Wonderful post. Hope that you can return to this every time your Achille’s heel flares – as you say. And living artfully, I believe, is remaining open for new opportunities to grow and live even more happily and fulfilled.

  2. Teresa says:

    This is so encouraging. So encouraging. I must admit just reading the title made me cringe. When I hear the phrase “living up to your potential” I am racked with guilt! I even wonder if anyone other than Christ could honestly claim such a life? I love the way you reframed this concept for me. Instead of feeling shut down by this notion, this reframing is so freeing, motivating and inspiring. Today I just might move a mountain or two. Much gratitude! May need to read this each morning! Cheers.

    • jenpedwards says:

      And here’s something else to chew on, dear Teresa…according to the world’s standards, even Christ did not live up to His potential. They all thought He had come to free his people from Roman oppression. He didnt make any money, had no home, a rock for a pillow, very few threads to wear, and hung out with a group of sketchy sorts of men ( ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, etc.) whom I’m sure weighed Him down. it might be said from a particular point of view, that Christ “wasted” Himself on broken men and women. He wasted His own rightful position on the throne to take on human flesh. He wasted His kingly riches in exchange for a robe and sandals. His lavish, exquisite wastefulness in making it possible for me (and you and everyone around us) to be whole and to live in relationship with Him, makes me want to go and live likewise.

      The thing I’ve got to keep reminding myself of every day ( because I forget this every day!) is that His call on my life to create is never a waste! I think it means we need to use tons of paper for drawings and paintings and writings, take tons of photographs, plant every inch of our yards with flowers, lavishly use canvases to throw paint on, etc. We, as artists, need to live artfully in such a way that others say of us, as they did of Mary with her pint of pure nard on Jesus’ feet, she is wasting her time and resources! I’m up for that! How ’bout you? 🙂

      • freebirdsings says:

        I’ve been pondering this post and your reply here hits on just what was going through my mind. As an extra note, we were not given our “gifts” for others to determine how we use, enjoy or share them. Too often we fall in this trap of letting someone take our gift and attach all kinds of strings to it. It’s time to keep that particular Mary in mind!

        I am reminded of when my dad was dying (just a couple of weeks to live). People came to say their goodbyes. Every day people showed up. Loads of family and friends from over the years. What had Dad done to rate this? Nothing but saying a nice word rather than a snide one to anyone. Nothing but helping out if someone needed it especially by having the house with the pool for loads of family get togethers (reunions sort of) over the years. He never had any money instead being in deep debt over my sister’s experimental open heart surgery as a kid and then my mom’s MS costs but he honored both them and the bills attached. He never had an important job but was a simple soldier or a school gardener. But I remember a friend of his (my sister-in-law’s dad) who looked at what was happening and said he’d gotten it all wrong. He went out and started selling off some of his rentals and started getting his life changed from being a money maker to a person his wife would want to have around. For someone to whom money meant everything to see what really mattered at a friend’s deathbed is a great gift. So my dad surely did not live up to his “potential” yet he was able to change someone’s life by how he lived and died. So what is living up to our potential again 😉 ?

        • jenpedwards says:

          I think your Dad is the epitome of someone “living up to their full potential”!!! What a life of love and service. Thank you, as always , for. Your comments here! They add so much. As to compiling these thoughts into a book…we will see…:)

  3. Agatas Art Corner says:

    Such a beautiful post! I’m glad you had that light bulb moment and realized how it is that you want to live your life “artfully”. And isn’t it so sad how artists (myself included) totally underestimate their own ability and overestimate that of others? Or maybe not overestimate others but actually see their talent for what it is. This is something I’m definitely working on too. All the best to you and thanks for this lovely, eye opening post.

    • jenpedwards says:

      You are welcome Agata! Thank you so much for reading this post and taking the time to comment! I appreciate your comments here!

  4. Nora says:

    Loved this post and thank you for it. I can truthfully say that i am “living artfully”.
    The image conjured up by Robert Frost’s poem is…2 roads…one leading to cement, tall buildings, dollar signs……..the other perhaps leading nowhere, but full of color and magic.

  5. Phyllis says:

    Living is by nature filled with choices, and choices nessarily require trade offs. “Fulfilling potential” can have one meaning for this person but not that one. Is potential realized if buyers willing to pay a big price for art? Is potential more fully realized as the price of a work goes up? Scary thought that (Van Gogh sold nothing in his lifetime).
    It’s lovely to imagine my art receiving recognition and accolades. At the moment I am happy when I end the day having had fun, and looking at the work in progress as “OK. Not bad, in fact fun. Wow, I like what I’ve got so far.” and also looking forward to the next day’s painting session. I have several people to whom I send each day’s progress for feedback. I’m finding that having loosened up my approach, my paintings have come alive with an unexpected voice. Fun.
    So is that fulfilling potential? I have no idea. It just feels great, and right. Can’t that be the criterion for perfect fulfillment of potential?

    • jenpedwards says:

      “Choices require trade-offs…” So true, so true! Thank you Phyllish for your lovely comments here! And for your continued presence here on Drawn2Life!

  6. Denise Bongiovanni~ says:

    Thank you for reeling me back in…I have this conversation with myself everyday. I believe this kind of thinking is holding me back. The artful life IS the real deal. Loving my life and making art a priority, whether it’s photographing the kids in my life celebrating and enjoying the moment or sitting down quietly to sketch my view…that is what I’m working towards now. Now, to get the muse to replace the inner critic…

    • jenpedwards says:

      When you find out how to “get the muse to replace the inner critic” please share with me! 🙂 I keep having to be reeled back in almost every week! Thank you Denise, for taking the time to comment here! I so appreciate it!

    • jenpedwards says:

      Ah, don’t we all need this weight lifted from time to time! Thanks so much for your continued presence he Marie!

  7. Helen Conway says:

    I don’t think it is ever possible to ‘live up to ones potential’ in the sense all of us when we die will not have done things we are capable of because time simply ran out and life as we live it demands choices. I am a lawyer but I have equal potential to be an architect, a diplomat or a teacher. I am an artist but every time I choose a medium or a design I rule out something else I have the potential to do. Potential is not a target to reach. It is a tool to allow us to make fulfilling choices. And choosing to make money is not the only valid way to live.

    Your post has made me realise that I am not wasting time choosing to keep and learn to draw in a visual journal even though only my spouse and best friend currently see it. I have the potential to encourage others more by sharing it on line and I now chose to do that. Thank you.

    • jenpedwards says:

      Oooh, I love this: ” potential is not a target to reach, it is a tool to allow us to make fulfilling choices.” Love that! I Hooe everyone reads all of these comments because everyone has so much to contribute! Thank you Helen!

  8. freebirdsings says:

    I think it would make a great book if all these thoughts from you Jennifer, and everyone else were put together with a picture of Mary wasting the oil. These are great thoughts. Thoughts most of us need to keep reminding ourselves of every day. I agree with your friend’s words “But Jennifer, THIS is the real art. All this in these sketchbooks. The drawings and paintings of your everyday life…THIS is it!” totally! And that our potential is really just a tool rather than a target as Helen Conway said in the comments. Oooh, so many good thoughts here!

  9. Jo says:

    I came here because of Danny’s post and I know you were both God-sent today. I’ve recently decided that the pursuit of sales and honors isn’t for me, certainly not at this last stage of my life. I’m free to do what I want to do whether it’s painting a large canvas or working in my journal or gardening or sewing or baking a pie for my husband or simply spending the afternoon with my nose in a book. All of these are artistic pursuits, or lead there. I was made by the Creator to create and he didn’t tell me that I had to work my tail off to make paintings to sell. How refreshing to find someone who voices it so well.
    I’ll be back to hear what you have to say next. I intend to enjoy the lavish gifts I have.

    • jenpedwards says:

      I’m so glad you are enjoying your gifts Jo! And so glad you are visiting here! Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog and let me know how you are experiencing a freedom to create!

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