8 reasons why smart, hardworking people don’t reach their full potential

What does it mean to reach your potential?

We all have different definitions. For some, reaching their potential involves getting recognition for their work. For others, it means creating a balanced life where both work and personal life are equally satisfying.

And then there are others who wish to create something so great, so useful, that it gets used widely. They feel satisfied knowing they’re making the world a better place.

The equation seems simple. Work smart, work hard, and you’ll get what you want. When we see someone fall short of expectations, we assume they either didn’t try hard enough or made poor decisions.

But it isn’t that simple. Life’s complexities can’t be boiled down to two factors. Along the path, we run into various opportunities, obstacles, and events. These affect who we become and how we react to future situations.

Here are eight reasons why a person falls short of their potential:

1. They don’t practice humility

Humility is an undervalued trait. When you think about it, our society tends to value success, accomplishments, and pride. We cheer on those who are the loudest while ignoring those who stand quietly by the side.

But a lack of humility means a lack of willingness to change. Those who haven’t experienced enough failures and setbacks lack the ability to learn from others, reflect on past wrongs, and react to change.

When someone rests contentedly on their laurels, they’re not used to doing things differently. The problem is that circumstances change eventually. When change comes, the person who’s too comfortable in their successes isn’t prepared to adapt.

2. They believe they can have everything

When we’re younger, we’re told that we can have anything. If you’re decently intelligent and willing to put in the hard work, you can have it all. Time and again, the same narrative gets passed around.

So a person who is both smart and hardworking believes they can do everything. The problem with trying to do everything, however, is that you end up doing nothing.

Diversifying your energy amongst numerous endeavors means that you don’t become particularly good at anything. You become unfocused. When someone can’t decide what they want to do, they end up skimming the surface of many things rather than diving deep in a few things.

3. They are motivated by extrinsic desires

Intrinsic motivation means performing an action for internal rewards, such as self-improvement, personal enjoyment, and a feeling of accomplishment. Extrinsic motivation means performing an action for external reasons, such as for money, avoiding punishment, or getting recognition.

People are often driven to pursue something due to extrinsic reasons, such as receiving praise or avoiding criticism. These are not bad reasons. But extrinsic motivation on its own is not enough in the long run.

When someone is rewarded extrinsically but not intrinsically, their actions start to feel meaningless after a while. Empty. Unfulfilling. Eventually, there comes a point when we seek a bigger purpose.

What am I here for? What is something I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to pursue? When someone starts asking these questions (and answering them), they start taking those first steps towards their full potential.

4. They believe they’ve reached the final stop to their journey

Have you found yourself thinking that you’ve reached the endpoint? Maybe you’re in a situation that you think will never change. You learned a skill and there’s nothing more to learn

When someone believes there’s nothing ahead, their actions reflect this line of thought. They become stagnant. They stop challenging themselves and pushing boundaries.

The truth is that there’s always more. A person’s potential is like a bottomless cup of coffee. When you try new things, you begin to see that there’s more out there. Unfortunately, those who stay in the same spot never get to realize that.

5. They don’t see things from others’ perspectives

Practicing empathy is important for all aspects of life. When you understand why someone feels or acts a certain way, you understand how to respond. An empathetic person is valued and appreciated by those they come in contact with.

In your work life, learning others’ needs and wants allows you to better cater to them. The company Apple is a prime example. Their success comes from creating the best user experience possible. From the moment someone walks into their store, to purchasing a product and using it, Apple makes it a priority to understand how to make their products fit their customers’ lifestyles.

Most people think of their own needs and wants. It takes a certain amount of practice and skill to think about things from someone else’s view. But when you figure out what others want, you end up getting what you want.

6. They fail to match their vision with action

It’s one thing to want something. Everybody aspires to certain things, big or small. Everybody hopes that someday those dreams will come to fruition.

It’s another thing to take a hard look at where you want to be and where you are right now. Are you working towards that “someday” goal right now? Or is your “someday” goal exactly that – a daydream you live off but don’t take concrete action towards achieving?

When vision and action don’t align, someone ends up in the same spot, doing the same things repeatedly. Instead of trying to seek change, the person just imagines some ideal scenario in their head. Fantasizing becomes a substitute for taking action, preventing progress.

7. They cling to the concept of what “should be” rather than what is

Life isn’t fair. People who are undeserving get what they want. Bad things happen to good people. Working hard and doing all the right things isn’t a guarantee of anything.

At a certain point, these difficult truths need to be accepted. The world isn’t shaped in a way where people who try the hardest get the most. There are flukes, coincidences, and elements outside our control.

When someone clings onto the idea of how things “should be”, they become bitter and resentful. They see events in their life as outside their control, so they wonder, what’s the point? They lose motivation as a result.

While some things are outside our control, there are still many things within our control. We can decide how we react to a situation. We can decide what our next steps are. We can decide whether to keep going or just stop where we are.

8. They forget to take care of themselves

Every day, there are people vying for your time and attention. Family members need to be cared for. Emails from colleagues wanting you to review documents. People asking you for a moment of your time.

We all have responsibilities. But in the midst of everything and everyone, it’s easy to forget to take of one particular person: ourselves. We all need to take a moment to pause, reflect on our day, and relax.

Why is this important? Because it’s those moments of slow that you get a better perspective on how you’re faring. You get a chance to think about whether you’re satisfied with the way things are, and what adjustments should be made.

Remember that you are in charge of yourself. Others will be there to guide and support you, but you’re the one at the helm. Your potential is lying in wait – it’s up to you to go get it.

This article originally appeared in Jumpstart Your Dream Life.