Living up to Your Potential

I recently read a post on one of my favorite blogs – Making it Lovely, called “Mathematical Mind” that really got me thinking.  Nicole talks a little bit about her high school and college experience and a bit about how she’s not exactly where she could be.  I won’t paraphrase too much – you can check it out here…but wow, this really resonated with me.

Lately I have been thinking about my late grandfather, Donald F. Chamberlain (pictured above with my brother, also Donald Chamberlain, circa 1970 – love that couch), quite a bit.  It all started several months ago at a group outing.  A bunch of friends had taken our kids to the children’s museum and then stopped by the mall for Dairy Queen.  Some of us were hanging out with the kids eating Dairy Queen and I started talking with our friend Adam about Google Archives and how you could learn about your family ancestry (google archives has since been discontinued, but you can still learn a lot about your family just through googling them).  I immediately typed in my grandfather’s name and quickly found his obituary.  When I read it out loud, Adam looked at me kind of stunned and said “Your Grandfather was the Inspector General of the CIA, that’s sort of a big deal…”

Yes…I have always thought of my grandfather as a big deal, or as I like to remember him as a GREAT man.  I was lucky enough to have known him for the first 19 years of my life.  He died my freshman year of college.  He had a heart attack on Good Friday.  I came home that Friday to spend Easter with my family and found everyone sitting around the living room looking stunned.  Grandpa had a heart attack, but was expected to recover.  He had been diagnosed a couple years earlier with Parkinson’s Disease, and I believe that disease is hard on anyone, but for my grandfather, a brilliant scholar, with a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering, who had spent over 20 years working in the scientific division of the CIA, it must have truly been a torture that I hope never to have to endure.

I was able to see him that weekend, and he told me goodbye, but said that he wanted to say goodbye the way Native Americans did…rather than say goodbye they would just tell you to have a good and safe journey, because even if you passed to the spirit world you would still be able to meet again.  Of course I had no way of knowing at the time that would be the last time I spoke to my grandfather.  Even while dying his brilliance was able to shine through.  I went back to school late Sunday and received a call on Monday that he had died.

My grandfather was the first person I had been close to that had died.  Truth be told, he is still the closet person to me that has died.  After the afternoon conversation at Dairy Queen I started to think more about him than I had in a long time.  I looked up some archival articles online and caught just a bit more of a glimpse of him and felt a tiny bit closer to his life.  Although I have always felt immense pride when discussing him and feel extremely blessed to have such a great man as my grandfather…I can’t help thinking that in some ways it must mean I’m underperforming…not exactly living up to my potential.

I am keenly aware that I don’t have to graduate with a fancy degree from a fancy school (I CHOSE to leave Georgetown Law school after a year and a half to pursue my Master’s in Education…or maybe I CHOSE to leave because I hated it, but nonetheless I left of my own accord).  I have NEVER regretted that decision.  I could have gone into politics like my grandfather and could have known the greatness that he embodied throughout his life.  But…I made conscious and definitive choices that led me along a different path.  I don’t think these choices are the difference between living a life of greatness or not.  Sure, it’s easy to see greatness when you hear someone has achieved something like becoming the director general of the CIA, but I know that there is more to it than that.

Still…underachiever keeps echoing in my head.  I have a lot of ideas, spinning around constantly, usually going faster than I can act on them.  I find myself scattered…just the other day I realized that I got sidetracked while placing an order for cards at Tiny Prints.  I had a coupon for $20 off any order so I was ordering a journal for my daughter’s birthday…which was free.  I only had to pay shipping.  I got sidetracked, one thing led to another and Monday came around and I realized I had never ordered the journal and missed the deadline to use the coupon.  That is typical of my day.  Between working on several business ideas, keeping track of client work, raising 2 kids and taking care of the house many things are left undone and I am often left feeling scattered…and always feeling as though I could be doing more.

I’m tired of looking at the spaces in between those undone things and seeing glimpses of what could be.  I realize that part of this is me being hard on myself but at the same time, I have begun to wonder why I can’t achieve some sort of GREAT in what I do everyday.  Even if I’m JUST running a small boutique web design business, I am sure that I could give more effort in this, whether it’s getting back to clients quicker, paying more attention to small details…these are things that can bridge you from mediocre to great or even stellar.

I have to believe that it’s not what you are doing that creates this definition of greatness, but how you are doing it.  Cramming everything in means you are mediocre at a lot of things, and probably not great at anything.  The paring down is hard…prioritizing, what are the details I want to feel proud of.  I guess for me it’s time to really take inventory and make some decisions.  What are those things that will bring joy in my life when I can reflect and know that I have done an amazing job.  I guess those things are always evolving but the first step is to slow down and be mindful.  I wish you luck in this journey – feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts!


  1. I didnt know that about your grandad. I dont even remember if I ever met him He sounds like he was a brilliant man!

  2. Well, where to start? First things first, I don’t think you JUST do anything; and, I know you! 😉 So, let up a little. And, in general, I think most women are too hard on themselves so it’s not just you. Did you see the list you had? Kids, house, running your own business. Would you like to cure cancer at the same time? And, I bet that business of yours is nearly 24-7. It isn’t like you can leave it at 5PM like some jobs. It eeks in at all hours.

    Now, I am not saying that your grandfather wasn’t amazing. Clearly he was impressive and that does take some thinking about and recognition. But, we also need to take into consideration what life was like then and what it is like now. Were families as insanely busy then as they are now? Did they try to squeeze in as many things as we do? Did your grandfather go to work and then run around with 2 kids all evening or even during the day and try to get his work done? I suspect not.

    So, while it is important to recognize and appreciate people for what they do, such as your grandfather. He sounds like a great man. I would have loved to have met him. However, you can’t let that make you feel like you aren’t good enough. It reminds me of a conversation we have had before… The people who question whether or not they are doing the right “thing” professionally or personally are usually doing the right “thing”. It’s the ones who never ask the question who need the most work.

    You should feel proud of the accomplishments, including your education and your family, as well as your business. And, only you can determine what to pare down to keep your sanity in these busy times to keep everything in balance.

    I do want to say that there must be something in the air because I am having a similar feeling; however, mine is more about making big changes and figuring out who I am. Although, I think that goes back to being a mom and getting lost in that while working and bringing up children. Of course, it does still all come down to being your best while trying to juggle it all. 😉

    • Natalie Reis says:

      Yes – of course. My grandfather loved his family but I think as was the case for men in the 60s, he made family sacrifices for work. I would always choose to do the opposite. I think part of that is the time we live in and part of that is I’m a mom and of course part of that is just me. Thanks for the kind words…I know I’m on the right track, just not sure to where.

Speak Your Mind