Hang In There: Focusing on Potential

by Jennifer Paros

April 2016

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.

~ Pope John XXIII

There is a well-worn phrase: “Hang in there!” It’s meant as encouragement for those of us encountering difficult times. Sometimes it’s even accompanied by a picture of a kitten hanging from a branch. Though the intention is encouragement, the expression doesn’t provide much information. What or where is the there? If we are going to hang, it seems important to find the most stable, reliable, and consistent thing from which to suspend our attention and ourselves. Conditions that are changing and out of our direct control cannot provide stability, and trying to hang onto others makes us dependent.

When we find the details of life distressing, it’s logical to look to the bigger picture for relief; and our potential is as big and forward-looking as it gets. It is part of the landscape yet to be traveled – the part we can feel, but haven’t yet seen. It is expansion **and** destination. Potential is an open door and remains so regardless of any diagnosis, media prediction, failing grade, or boss’s condemnation. Though not mandatorily positive in its promise, it does offer us the best and most of what is possible. There is nothing concrete about potential, but it is real enough to be either nurtured or neglected. It is more important than where we are now, because it is the calling that provokes our evolution.

In understanding our potential, the concept of equality is important. We are equal to the athlete, to the infirm, equal to the one of another color, equal to the starving one, to the rich one, equal to all of life because we are life. The same natural force that gives rise to the stars and planets gives rise to us. Equality is an invisible reality. Its deepest meaning is not about identical circumstances or development; it’s about the same fundamental promise present in each of us.

However one molds one’s self through personal desires and focus, we are all made of the same physical and nonphysical stuff. If we embrace this vision of equality, despite its intangible nature, ironically, we have something to hang onto. Whatever difficulty we are living, our stability comes from the steadfast expanding power of life – our potential.


We are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time.

~ Conor McGregor


In an interview, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson describes how people often look to those in their ancestry to determine their own potential. In contrast, he looks to the entirety of humanity, past and present, to assess the greatest possibilities for his personal expression.

“What have human beings accomplished? What poetry has been written . . . what novels . . . what speeches have been given, what discoveries have been made . . .? And that’s what I use as my reference for what I am capable of as a human being.

These are the doors open to him and to all of us. In this light, beyond what has already been realized, what anyone will be and know is also available to all.

My youngest son has lived social, behavioral, and school challenges; he’s often felt disheartened by the world. I want to help him to look in the direction of a bigger picture, of hisbigger picture. I can let him know that I know it’s there, yet it’s he who has to feel for it and put his attention and curiosity on all that’s possible for him, rather than on what limits and binds him.

In the film, Room, a young woman – kidnapped, raped, and locked in a shed for seven years – has a five-year-old son she’s raised during her captivity, who knows virtually nothing of the outside world. But after their escape is underway, he finds himself hidden in the back of a pickup truck, staring up at the sky for the first time. In his eyes we see awe and recognition. In this meeting with the phenomenon of our world, he is introduced to the true potential of his life – far beyond the limitedness of a single room.

When we see our potential, we trade a room for the world. The word potential means what is possible and derives from the Latin potential, meaning power. This is something we can hang onto – our internal power as individuals and as a collective. Life’s potential is great, malleable, and intended for all. So, let us hang in there by remembering that.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.

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