The Evolution of Potential

23.10.20 12:12 PM By Heather Kleinschmidt

Note: This is Part 3 in a four-part series on Average Potential.

  • Part 1 lays the foundation by distinguishing between scales of competence and dimensions of quality.
  • Part 2 investigates the application of that perspective to your personal potential.

In life, two types of personal evolution can happen: intentional and unintentional (or direct and indirect).

Intentional personal growth is the type that much of the personal development industry focuses on. It's when you make a decision to pursue some change of character directly, on purpose.

Unintentional development — or what I'm going to refer to as "self-surprise" — happens inadvertently, when elements that are buried deep inside of you begin to come forward as you encounter changing circumstances and new experiences. These surprises might thrill you or make you proud, or they might disappoint you.

Through both types, you expand who you are. Through both, you're adding to the depth and complexity that create texture in your being.

It Starts Here

What if there's more to you?

What if there's real capacity inside of you that you haven't yet revealed?

What if what you know now, and who you are now, isn't everything there is to know about you?

Your attitude toward your own potential and toward your own identity really matters.

Pursuing newness from a place of curiosity and excitement and wonder is a completely different experience than pursuing growth from a place of anxiety and insufficiency.


Once we have the perspective in place though, the question becomes how?

The idea of personal evolution is a nice one to dream about in an idealized way. But the action of pursuit can feel like a rat race, running in the same-old ruts and never really going anywhere...

Following are two methods for walking out personal change in a way that's engaging, interesting, and non-stress-inducing:

1. The first is a method that opens up space for self-surprise to manifest...

2. The second is a framework that puts a twist on a common tactic for (direct) personal growth...


Method #1: Homing + Play-Acting

I think the reason I decided to go into acting professionally was because I couldn't make a decision about 'what I wanted to do' with my life," my friend explained over beer and pizza.

"I love that one day I can be a criminal, and the next day I can be a cop; and the next, a scientist; and the next, a soccer mom. I get to explore all of these identities and I get to experience what it's like to be each one without getting restricted in the long-term."

The first method is what I'm calling "Play-Acting."

It's the idea that you can be like an actor and play out any identity you're curious about.

You can do this in a direct way by choosing to spend a day (or a few days, or a half-hour, or whatever) inhabiting that identity.

Or you can do it opportunistically:

Whenever you're presented with a particular situation — rather than responding as you typically do — pause for a beat, and then pretend like you're some other identity. Play out some other role in the encounter.

Ask yourself: what would it be like right now to be someone who ___ ?
...And do that.

Actually, it's better if you don't literally ask yourself. It's better if you don't think through it in an articulated way. You already know what it would be like to be that person — so just do it. Act it out intuitively, before getting in your head.

Maybe you feel most at-home as an agreeable, introverted colleague at work. What would it be like to pretend to be devil's advocate during that meeting? Or what would it be like to pretend to be the wild-eyed "Ideas Person" for a day?

There's intrigue in this game.

And that intrigue is what opens the door for something new to become real...

You can do this with any quality that you may want to develop in yourself:

  • Disorganized and undisciplined? Can you pretend to be someone who follows a predetermined schedule or who's bothered by the clutter around them...?

  • Up-tight and too unforgiving? Can you pretend to be someone who freely sees and engages with possibility, without caveat...?

  • Too soft-spoken? Can you pretend to be someone who takes a stand and weathers whatever outcomes arise...?

  • Wild and all-over-the-place? Can you pretend to be someone with a more vivid internal life...?

Feel free to caricaturize whatever identity you're exploring — the point is to have fun with it. Put on a nerdy sweater vest and thick glasses, or wear a hippy tunic and carry around a small bell.

Step into the role fully.

You're not putting on a show and trying to entertain anyone else — it's more like you're entertaining yourself within your exploration. You're making a game of it.


Play is actually the fundamental means by which we learn. (Despite every effort of the industrialized school system to beat that capacity out of society.)

By making a little game out of this kind of personality exploration, you'll learn in a much deeper and more meaningful way than when you pursue that understanding superficially, in an overly-articulated way.

"Homing" is the complementary idea that you always have your "home" traits available to return to. These are the traits that give you natural joy and energy. It's how you're most comfortable moving through the world.

This provides your foundation — a secure place to which you can always return.

Beyond that, however, there's a surprising amount of joy available in inhabiting other traits from time to time. It's like the joy of the professional actor: you get to experience what it's like to be someone else for a day, and then you get to return "home" at the end of the day.

It's an engaging approach to overcoming your limitations, whenever needed.

When you play-act with openness and curiosity (and a bit of fun), or any time you remain open to the possibility that there might be unexpected elements to who you are, you'll find yourself free.

Free from those self-fulfilling limits we put on ourselves in the form of the labels we adopt.

It's not about forcing yourself to become someone different — it's not about losing "who you are;" it's simply about embracing your own ability to surprise yourself. It's about remaining open to your own potential, to the possibility that maybe you don't know yourself as well as you sometimes like to think you do.

Because there just might be more to you... But you do have to actualize it to find out.


Method #2: Incremental Expansion

This isn't new news, but one of the reasons you may struggle to apply it is if you continue to look at your situation dichotomously...

Remember the distinction between scales of competence and qualitative ranges?

Your aim isn't to become better by going from 0 to 100 — and because this isn't your aim, that means that you're not failing when you find yourself in a more moderate capacity.

Consider the example below...

Let's pretend like your personal range (your "home") sits roughly within the brackets.

This means that you are capable of operating — to a small but not inconsequential degree — with a "Narrow Focus," and that you have a more natural capacity for operating with a "Wide Focus."

Remember that neither quality is good or bad — they're neutral. They just exist. It's what you do with them that matters. Sometimes, in some situations, a more narrow focus is more useful, and sometimes, in some situations, a more wide focus is more useful. 

The goal here is to develop the capacity to bring an appropriately placed qualitative approach to whatever situation you find yourself in.

In most situations where a more Narrowed Focus is more useful, all it takes is to expand very slightly in the direction of Narrow Focus.

This very slight expansion will dramatically increase your ability to show up effectively for those moments when you need to be more focused in order to be effective.

Expansion vs. Relocation
When we understand that development doesn't require jumping from one skillset to another — that it doesn't mean going from "being someone who's disorganized" to "being someone who's organized," for example, growth becomes so much easier.

Relocation is the dichotomous idea that I need to become excellent at a new skill in order to be able to benefit from it. (This is the feeling that you need to "push to 100," associated with scales of competence.)

Expansion, on the other hand, is the idea that by merely dipping my toe in the water (of any new way of being), I can already capitalize on some very real benefit.

You don't need to gain an entirely new skillset.

You have the option of merely developing an inch further in some direction. (Which means it then becomes easier to move another inch further, and then another inch further, and then another inch further — if you decide it's worthwhile to pursue that path.)

Finding ease in growth means letting go of any attempts to relocate your qualitative expressions, and to instead embrace expansion, recognizing the immense value in very small gains.

Your Toolbox
As you expand your capacities, you'll create for yourself a remarkable toolkit from which you can draw at any time, as dictated by the situation.

For example, if you are generally more introverted, but you effectively develop some minimal skills of extroversion, then for that brief moment in time when it's useful to speak up or engage in a different way than your default, you can.

You naturally will build out a toolbox that you can draw from at any time, based on whatever the context calls for from you.

It opens up limitless opportunity  and it does so via small, often imperceptible expansions in your personality. Merely by being the dynamic human you are, you can gain a wider and wider set of traits, which can be tucked away into your tool belt for future use at the right time.

The Accessibility of Adaptability
I don't try to change who I am for the sake of changing who I am.

As a dancer, I still love moving in my "home" style.

But I try to expand my capacity in order to give myself larger access to a wider array of enjoyable experiences. I want the capacity to participate in and to enjoy all forms of movement and choreography.

I want the capacity to truly appreciate and to have legitimate insight into the other forms of movement.

I want to be able to enter any moment and to meet whatever qualities the movement calls for. I want to have within my arsenal the tools to meet any moment with the expressive quality it deserves, in my own unique way.


Focus on the value of overcoming any crippling weak points, and then create *small opportunities in which you can practice that capacity.

I don’t expect (nor do I want) to change “who I am.”

But I also don’t want to lock myself into one rigid way of being for the rest of my life.

I want to discover all the surprising parts of me — I want to discover the expansive variations in color and texture that my being presents to the world.

And the only way I can make those discoveries is by testing them out against real things — real challenges and situations — in the world.

The Power of Plasticity
For years, it was believed that the majority — even all — of learning took place during the formative years of childhood and adolescence. It wasn’t until more recently that the power of plasticity was discovered.

How do you tap into your brain’s ability for plasticity?

Through engagement (read: play). Through repeated trial and error. Through interaction with and feedback from other humans. Through ongoing, conscious and intentional attempts.

By trying something new — failing — but learning, and then trying again.

It's not a magic bullet. But it is a very real tool at your disposal.

Your Average Potential
This is average potential.
It's open and free.
It's accessible and it creates accessibility.
It's dynamic and unpredictable.
It's blended and impure.

And it can be harnessed in a powerful way.

No Matter What You Want
If it calls to you at all, pursue it.

If there's any small interest, follow that curiosity.


Transcending Your Shell
There's something about this exercise that transcends.

It expands who you are — but not merely in the list of skills that go on your imaginary personality resume...

It actually brings to life an interesting nuance within your internal being.

👉  How have you surprised yourself in the past?
👉  What surprises might still be hiding in plain sight within you?

You won't know until you discover them.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.

To receive the next publication, sign up below: