Bows and Arrows, Baby Stroller, and Potential Energy

When they are in their equilibrium position, a bow and arrow have no energy stored. But when the bow’s position is altered from its equilibrium position, the bow stores energy. This stored energy by virtue of changing its position is called potential energy. When the arrow is released from the bow, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, the energy of motion. (I paid a little attention in physics class when I wasn’t sleeping through it.)

Bows and arrows are not the only things that have potential energy. So do people. And when people change their position from equilibrium, they change their potential. The problem is we don’t often change our position.

I have always been attracted to talent. I like talented people. They are full of potential energy.

There are a lot of talented runners around. I know one girl where I live who trains by pushing her toddler in a stroller every morning. She runs 70 to 90 miles per week like that. Her only quality workouts are races. She runs pretty fast because she’s talented. She has run a 2:56 marathon. In a physiological sport like running, you can get far on talent alone.

But that’s not enough. Most talented runners never meet their potential because of a lack of a planned, systematic training plan. Most good runners I know don’t have a coach. The coach in me is so bothered by this that I tend to get confrontational, telling people that only if they did things differently, they could achieve huge success. I don’t like myself when I get that way. Sometimes, I have to accept that I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make it drink.

I always look at life through the lens of running. But potential is not just about running, of course. Running may just be where falling short of reaching one’s potential is on obvious display.

Most people don’t meet their potential in other areas of life. How many people are talented musicians or artists or speakers or actors, but never reach the heights their talent can take them? We have a society that largely precludes us from relentlessly pursuing talent, except for rare circumstances. And so people must have jobs to pay the bills. 

I see this with my own twin brother. He is a very talented playwright. He has an MFA in creative writing. I am so impressed with his writing skills. But it’s nearly impossible to make any money as a playwright unless you get a play on Broadway. So he spends 40 hours per week as a copy editor. He’s had many full-time jobs over a number of years doing the same thing. He’s not happy. I wish there is a way for him to make a living doing what he is so talented at. I wish the world could see and be touched by his plays. I wish he could meet his potential.

And I wish I could meet mine. Apparently, other people think the same thing about me: Recently, a PhD colleague told me he didn’t think I was meeting my potential. He hit a nerve, because what he said to me out loud I had secretly been thinking for years. Although I have been very lucky to pursue what I believe I am talented at, I also often feel that I am falling short of my potential, that there is something bigger and better that I can achieve, something that I can touch people’s lives with.

And so my head spins every day with ideas. What can I do today? What can I do tomorrow?

All we have to do is find a way. All we have to do is make a change.

I wish that girl running with the baby stroller would agree to let me coach her so she could become a national-class runner.  

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