I remember applying for a fellowship that I didn’t get. In the rejection letter, I was told I showed great potential and they were looking forward to seeing what I would do.
As an adjective, potential means either having/showing the capacity to become or develop in the future. As a noun, it means latent qualities/abilities that may be developed and lead to future success.
When was the word potential ever used in a way that didn’t make people feel bad?
“Oh, s/he has so much potential!” (the positive spin)
“S/he’s not living up to her potential.” (the negative spin)
“In a few years, s/he’ll reach her/his potential.” (the neutral spin)
Whether uttered positively, negatively or neutrally, these statements mean s/he has more in her/himself than is showing right now. In other words, the person with potential is either holding something back or they’re not there yet. They’re falling short of what’s required now.
Saying someone has potential is often meant to be nice. But the future focus only reinforces the inadequacy of a person’s current efforts.
How can you genuinely and honestly encourage someone without using that word?
May we pursue our paths, honestly and genuinely encouraging others,