YOU, Not Circumstances, Determine Your Potential

Written by on October 7, 2016 in Breaking Barriers with 27 Comments


You’d be hard pressed to read anything having to do with dreams and goals and not find the term “achieve your full potential” used to reinforce the idea that you are capable of so much more.

We hear this term, smile or nod sagely to one another as though we “get it” but the truth is that for all practical purposes most of us haven’t the slightest idea what our “full potential” actually is, let alone how to achieve it.

You Determine Your Potential

Po*ten*tial: Having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

If you take the time to think about this definition it’s so generic that it renders it practically meaningless. We give meaning to the word based on our beliefs and expectations. 

The problem is that for most of us the meaning will inevitably be heavily influenced by our present circumstances.

I hear you … someone out there right now is saying, “Well, duh, of course, because I have to start somewhere, right?”

True, but when you use your present circumstances to define your potential it’s going to be very easy to fall into the trap of focusing on all the obstacles and challenges that prove it’s realistic to believe you will only be able to go so far.

Think about that for a minute while I share a story with you about a young woman who far exceeded her circumstances to achieve her full potential.

She Never Let Circumstances Define Her

She was born premature and during her youth, struggled with numerous illnesses including double pneumonia and scarlet fever.

When she was four years old, she contracted polio, a serious disease that affects the nerves of the spine. The doctors told her parents that their little girl would never walk again.

My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.

They were a poor family so good medical care was beyond their reach, but with the help of her mother she challenged her constraints and became determined to overcome her paralysis.

After 5 years of daily physical therapy, mostly administered by her family, she began to regain strength and to the astonishment of doctors she removed her leg brace and walked by herself for the first time.

She continued to push herself and soon began playing basketball with her brothers every day, at first with the aid of a high-topped shoe to support her foot and later in her bare feet!

Others began taking note of this young girl with the indomitable spirit and a track coach encouraged her to start running. She ran so well that during her senior year in high school, she qualified for the Olympics and won a bronze medal in the women’s 400-meter relay.wilma rudolph

In 1959, she qualified for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome by setting a world’s record in the 200-meter race. At the Olympics that year she won two gold medals; one for the 100-meter race and one for the 200-meter race.

In 1961 she received a Sullivan Award that honored her as the top amateur athlete in the United States, was named to the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Black Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, President Clinton’s National Sports Award and the African American Athletes Hall of Fame.

Wilma Rudolph was just 22 years old when she retired from running. She went on to have four children, worked as a track coach at DePauw University and served as a U.S. goodwill ambassador to French West Africa. She also founded the nonprofit Wilma Rudolph Foundation to help children learn about discipline and hard work.

Wilma Rudolph died in 1994, however, her passion and determination to overcome obstacles that led her to become a legend in the sports world will live on forever.

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: the potential for greatness lives within each of us. ~Wilma Rudolph

By any definition, Wilma Rudolph was an exceptional woman. But when you think about where she began, it’s clear that she never allowed her circumstances to get in the way. She was always in forward motion, literally and figuratively breaking barriers and challenging limits.

Are You Letting Your Circumstances Define You?

The problem with letting your circumstances define you is that it creates a virtual excuse factory producing endless reasons why you need to do, be or have more in order to move forward, why the problems you are facing are insurmountable.

Maybe you need to just surrender to the fact that you are only meant to go so far in your life.


You have potential within you that is far bigger than your current circumstances. If you have a dream, willpower, and discipline, then you can break through any barrier.

You can choose to be the driver in your own life journey.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

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  1. ikechi

    Hi Marquita

    This is a beautiful way to show how much potential we have as unique beings in our world. There will always be challenges but as you shared, it is how we respond to them that matters.

    It is great to always to see those who make the difference and overcome challenges despite the odds. Wilma is such an inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing. Take Care
    ikechi recently posted…4 Crazy Things You don’t Know When You Waste Your LifeMy Profile

  2. Lisa

    Wonderful article that really hit home for me. We all have choices and options but many people don’t use them or realize they can choose. Thank you for sharing Wilma’s story – so inspiring. Where there is a will, there is a way to make it work.
    We all face challenges in our lives and need to work on ourselves to become strong enough to overcome them.
    Thanks again for a terrific post.
    Lisa recently posted…How to Improve Your Personal Development SkillsMy Profile

  3. Excellent post Marguita! I’m one who consistently urges others, especially women, to determine what is there destiny design. In other words, what are they designed to achieve in life. Challenges and obstacles are most often in our lives to make us stronger by learning to overcome them and move beyond.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Amaka Adindu

    Great post Marquita. My take away today and many others “Never Let Circumstances Define you” When life gives you a lemon make a lemonade. Thank you!

  5. Lesly T. Federici

    Being a Registered Nurse taught me about “Secondary Gains”. These are behaviors that surround illness, life circumstances, where someone’s life was defined by these situations. So I can spot them often or am sensitive to them. It’s a challenge for someone to break through them if they’re unaware .. when I started to lose my eyesight I could have used it as an excuse to not learn new skills and become really dependent on my family. Thank goodness I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be who I am today …
    Lesly T. Federici recently posted…This Happened On The Way To An Affordable WorkshopMy Profile

    • Wonderful insights Lesly, thanks so much for sharing. I must admit I stumbled over this, “someone’s life was defined by these situations”. I am aware that many people do tend to define themselves by their circumstances, but that is one of the things I work hard to discourage in every way shape and form. One of my earlier posts addresses this beautifully featuring a TED Talk by a woman who is a cancer survivor talking about how she is not defined by her cancer. None of us are defined by our circumstances unless we choose to be, and I am delighted that you chose not to be defined, and limited, by the condition that affected your eyesight. 🙂

  6. Wilma rudolph’s story is very inspiring.It reminds me of Arunima Sinha the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest in the year 2013 .23 year old Arunima was pushed off the train by thieves who snatched her bag.As she fell on the track a train ran over her legs.She suffered serious leg and pelvic injuries, and lost her leg as the doctors amputated it to save her life.While being treated she resolved to climb the mount everest which is the tallest mountain in the world.She was provided prosthetic leg and soon started working on moutaineering course.One can only imagine the hardships she must have faced.With her willpower she overcome her severe destiny.Yet,very few of us possess this courage that can set us above and beyond everyone.What role does destiny play in our lives?And how much free will do we possess?
    Priya Prabhu recently posted…Subtle experiment – Are tattoos good for us?My Profile

    • Thank you so much for sharing Arunima’s story with us. Believe it or not, I have read about her and could not agree more with you about her courage and tenacity. I’d also like to thank you for the thoughtful questions you posed. Here’s what I know … it has been proven scientifically that it is possible for anyone to change their circumstances IF they really want to and are willing to do the work. And while I agree there are many who choose not to make that commitment, I know that many more people DO make that choice than most of us are aware of. We tend to assume there is only a small number of people who accomplish these amazing feats of courage because there are only a few that make it into our field of vision through books, articles, and the media. But the truth is every single day there are people doing amazing things to push through barriers and overcome tremendous odds. In fact, you’ve given me a marvelous idea for a future post where I can share a few of these lesser known stories. Thanks so much Priya, I truly value you taking the time to share your thoughtful insights with us!

      • It is my pleasure to share my thoughts with you on your articles Marquita.Your articles are very appealing to me and I would love to encourage you in this noble cause. Emotional resilience intrigues me and so much learning comes from reading your articles.I will be one of those readers to read your articles and post my comments on them for my own good.I am also passionate about spiritual practice and wish to realise God in this lifetime. Not sure what is your take on it but let me know your thoughts if this interests you also.
        Priya Prabhu recently posted…Subtle experiment – Are tattoos good for us?My Profile

  7. Ravi Chahar

    Hey Marguita,

    You totally did that. The potential is about to reveal. We all have something special but we have to embrace it.

    People get demotivated when they don’t catch their dreams. They need to feel their potential.

    Thanks for this inspirational post.
    Ravi Chahar recently posted…How To Automatically Empty WordPress Trash Using Days Parameter?My Profile

  8. Suzie Cheel

    Well this post spoke right to my heart and to where I am at right at this pint in time. YES:You can choose to be the driver in your own life journey.

    We all have the choice to do or not to do and the results we get are reflected in the life we live.
    Thanks for sharing that inspirational story of both courage and love xxx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Discover Your True Passion: Listen To The Whispers Of Your HeartMy Profile

    • As they say, timing is everything, and while this message surely is not a new one, I agree that it periodically bears repeating. Thanks for contributing to the conversation my friend. 🙂

  9. Teresa Salhi

    I love this juicy bit of inspiration set in a matter of fact tone. Yes, we just need own this and get over allowing anyone or anything else dictate our destiny. I am living and sharing this real reality. Thanks for sharing Wilma’s story too – did not know and loved ready about it.
    Teresa Salhi recently posted…Protected: Lesson 2 – I Choose ConfidenceMy Profile

  10. You can’t let circumstances define or determine you.

    I appreciate that sentiment, Marquita.

    I like to say that you need to take responsibility for your life… that is, understand that you have the “ability” to “respond” to any circumstances that come your way.

    You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control your response to them.

    I like the idea of living life in “the now” instead of the future or past. It’s kind of the same thing… you can’t change the past or determine the future, but you can totally take control of your “now”.
    David Merrill recently posted…Content Marketing For Professional ServicesMy Profile

    • Well said David, and I to believe in the importance of taking responsibility for our life – it really is the key to personal growth. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, always appreciated.

  11. Vatsala Shukla

    No matter our circumstances, there is always an element of Free Will regarding our choices as you’ve shown us in your post, Marquita. It’s the people who give up who never find out the other side of what could have been.

    Your post brought back memories. We had a similar situation last year with Miss Coco who had a window of 6 weeks to recover and walk again having suffered hind leg paralysis. As we approached the window, the vet gave her a 30% chance to walk and started talking about wheels for her etc. I was determined to prove him wrong. Miss Coco did walk almost 3 weeks after the window closed and I give her will power backed by our encouragement full credit.

    Imagine my surprise when the vet’s assistant told me almost a year later that this was a first for the clinic. Most pets in that condition need wheels or go into depression. I’m so glad Wilma Rudolph’s mother and family didn’t give up on her.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…Want that promotion? Better raise your Executive PresenceMy Profile

    • Oh you have no idea how much I can relate to your story Vatsala! Several years ago my sweet little dog began suffering back pain and when I took him to the vet he told me that it was a degenerative condition and there was nothing that could be done to help my dog. He advised me to have him put down. I refused to give up so easily and decided at the very least I would get another opinion, so I went to a different vet who immediately diagnosed his condition and gave me these little white pills (the name of which completely escapes me at the moment) for him. Within a week my dog was full of energy and running around his old self – all because of a medication that cost me $10 for a month’s supply! To think that I came so close to losing him was unnerving, but it taught me a valuable lesson to never accept the first answer – to anything. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  12. Thank you Marguita,

    You have potential within you that is far bigger than your current circumstances. If you have a dream, willpower, and discipline, then you can break through any barrier.

    You can choose to be the driver in your own life journey.

    I have just made an important decision and your article helped me to do it.

  13. It takes a lot of strength and confidence to be able to live to our full potential and follow our dreams. This is a very inspiring and empowering post that may help self-doubters achieve new heights.

  14. Sue Kearney

    Ah, yes, this:

    “You have potential within you that is far bigger than your current circumstances. If you have a dream, willpower, and discipline, then you can break through any barrier.”

    For me (because I get stuck sometimes) I wrap this concept in the idea that the potential moment is now. It really helps me to envision myself where I am headed, where I want to be, doing what I want to achieve, in this now moment. Result: I stand taller and I turn to the tasks of the day with a lighter heart.
    Sue Kearney recently posted…Priestess? Business Priestess? Really?My Profile

    • Beautifully said Sue, and with you having gone through a transition of your own over the past year I have a feeling this topic is particularly relevant for you. Thanks for stopping by my friend – really love the new website, especially your banner image! 🙂

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