Intentional Living

Potential vs Purpose: Which One Matters?

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Like many people in the world, I tend to have very high expectations for myself. I say yes to every opportunity that comes my way in hopes that I reach my full potential. Yet, in my attempt to reach that potential, I find myself feeling nothing more than burned out, regretting that I took on so much, and still feeling unfulfilled. Can you relate?

Our society applauds individuals for reaching their highest potential. You hear it all the time growing up when your teacher tells you, “You have SO much potential!!! COME ON – if you would just work a little harder…” Think about it – in school we take so many standardized tests and try to measure individual talent compared to the class as a whole. Then those results are used to determine what kind of college you could go to. Why? To see your potential. But is this the right way to judge ourselves? I don’t think so.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve questioned who or what you were meant to be in life. In fact, I’m sure the majority of us have asked ourselves this question! You’ve probably even asked yourself, “What’s my purpose,” or “Why was I born,” or “What’s the meaning of life?!”

Why am I bringing this up? Well, as I mentioned before – our society glorifies the idea of reaching potential. But what many people don’t realize is that you can reach your potential and still miss your purpose; therefore, still feeling unfulfilled in life. This simple yet profound statement has been on my mind all week.

And we’re going to uncover it together.

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Potential, simply put, is what you’re capable of doing, but haven’t done yet. Your potential is your ability to achieve or succeed in something great.

Potential is externally driven and achievement-oriented. From a young age, we are given unrealistic expectations based upon “unleashing our potential.” We’re told that having high grades, numerous awards, and a strong resume will help us succeed in life so that we can reach the top.

We’re told that we should focus on the skills and subjects that we excel at. For example, if you ace every math test, you’re encouraged to pursue a career in that area because you have a lot of potential. Better yet – if you’re a great cook, you have so much potential to open a 5-star restaurant known worldwide!

(Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a great cook – but that doesn’t mean it’s my calling in life.

This is why I said that you could spend your whole life trying to reach your potential and die never fulfilling your purpose.


Purpose is what you’re called and meant to do with your life. We were born with unique gifts and talents that enable us to pursue our calling. And unfortunately, many of us spend our entire lives trying to figure out exactly what our calling even is.

There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.

William Barclay

Purpose is internally driven and mission-oriented. Instead of focusing on how you measure up to society’s standards, when you’re pursuing purpose it’s about your internal passions and values. By focusing on what you believe in and staying true to your core, you will find so much more fulfillment than pursuing various achievements and external validation.

Your purpose won’t leave you feeling drained. Instead, you’ll find joy regardless of external factors. Your purpose is literally your birthright and gift from God.

Related: Encompassing Failure: A Measure of Success

Potential vs Purpose

Here’s the thing – you could spend your life trying to reach your potential and die never fulfilling your purpose. Think about it. If potential is what you’re capable of but haven’t done, then you’ll literally never achieve it. You’ll always be looking for the next thing so that you can feel satisfied, but that satisfaction is temporary.

For my fellow Christians and believers, I want you to think about something. Jesus never fulfilled his potential.

Jesus could have become the King/Ruler during His time. He could have been the biggest leader in the church. He could have lived longer. He could have skipped out on the cross. He could have commanded them all to bow down at His feet. But He didn’t.

Instead, Jesus focused on fulfilling His purpose, not His potential. And we should do the same. Just think for a second – imagine if Jesus chose to abandon His purpose? PHEW. I don’t even want to think about it.

Anyway, you were born for a unique, God-given purpose. Instead of stressing about all of your unlocked potential, I challenge you to aim for fulfilling your purpose. And who knows…your potential may follow.

So what do you think of potential vs purpose? Which one do you plan to pursue? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Related: How to Live an Intentional Life

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Hi, I'm Ariel.
Your Hype Girl +  Self Awareness Coach.

I'm a Starbucks lover, fizz dealer, master chef, creative baker, worship leader, dog mama, crisis counselor, cheese connoisseur, and passionate writer.

I've never been one to limit myself to a single title, and you shouldn't either. I bet you're more than a daughter, more than your age, and more than your job.

When I was in college, I noticed people around me lacked vision for their lives. They felt so restricted by society's expectations that they weren't living according to their own passions. And I wanted to help.

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