My friend, a leader in his field, was recently inter- viewing candidates for a position. He said he asked 100 people why they thought they would be good for the job. They all squeezed it in at some point. Here it comes . . . ‘‘I really think I have huge potential’’ or ‘‘I really think this job has huge potential for me’’. Note also the word ‘‘huge’’. People or things rarely simply have potential — they all have it in huge doses.
The other usage of the word is when editors, teachers or bosses are assessing our work. These days, every piece of art or writing ‘‘really has potential’’. In other words, it isn’t good at present, but if you completely redo it, it may possibly be good one day.
Same with job applicants. As my friend said to one of his interviewees: ‘‘If you haven’t got competence now, real time, and in bucket loads, why would I pay you? I don’t want someone with huge potential, or a huge anything. I want someone who can simply do the job that I’ve advertised!’’
I’m usually alarmed by the word when it’s used in connection with my work. I just want to know the facts. Yes, it is good in this and that way; and it could be improved here and here with a few minor — oh please
do use the word ‘‘minor’’ — tweaks. I like tweaks. It says the opposite of potential. It says we’ve arrived! Now! With a few small modifications.
The psychology of all this is interesting. We’re part of a different world now where everyone is multi-tasking, ambidextrous and poly-capable (made that one up).
And everyone is on the way to somewhere or to being someone else with regard to careers, relation- ships, personal growth, or country.
So everybody and everything is in a state of flux and transition until they or it fulfils the required potential. Even our friends and partners only have the potential to make us happy — or we, them.
All of which usually leads to boredom once the goal is accomplished and the new peripatetic generations need a new challenge.
Having conquered Everest, off they go in a state of perpetually fulfilled or unfulfilled potential, ‘‘exploring’’ their ‘‘possibilities’’.
I’m praying that this column has more than ‘‘huge potential’’. I’m also hoping it goes ‘‘viral’’, my other new pet hate word which is bandied about. It has the huge potential to go really viral. But then again, so do we all.