That simple yet damning phrase is one that I often associate with my home country, Italy. Italy is, and in many ways always has been, a mecca of art, history, food, and culture. Residents and visitors alike will gush that in addition to the aforementioned, this country geographically has it all: crystalline waters, majestic mountains, chic urban cities, and an idyllic countryside.
Why is it, then, that Italy cannot seem to function?
There are many, many ways to describe Italy's infamous struggle to succeed financially, politically, and economically, but perhaps my favorite was by an Italian turned Australian ex-pat who I met on my recent visit to Umbria: "Italia è una Ferrari, ma chi la guida non ha la patente."
Which roughly translates to: "Italy is a Ferrari, but those who drive it don't have a license."
Italy is not a country that lacks potential; it is a country that lacks direction. As the author of Eat, Pray, Love eloquently puts it: "[An Italian author] tried to answer the question of why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power. Why are they the planet's masters of verbal diplomacy, but still so inept at home government? Why are they so individually valiant, yet so collectively unsuccessful as an army? How can they be such shrewd merchants on the personal level, yet such inefficient capitalists as a nation?"
These centuries-debated questions are far beyond the scope of this article. What we can learn from Italy is that acumen isn't enough to achieve success. In order to make the most of our potential, we must also give it direction.
Similar to how Italy was always a country full of rich resources, some people are innately born with many of the traits that enable them to take the fast lane in life: talent, good looks, money, intelligence, and so on. These people are more blessed than others when it comes to their ease in finding and seizing opportunities. Regardless of how much we are naturally set up to "have it all," it won't matter if we do not take the initiative to manage it.
Step One: Believe in Your Abilities. If you are a talented writer, marketer, businessperson, and so on - believe in your craft. I've found that the biggest obstacle to developing my talents is myself. Not trusting my decisions, allowing my thinking to be clouded by doubt, and being distracted by minor setbacks are the biggest obstacles to my growth. If you don't believe in your potential, no one will. You cannot convince others until you have first completely convinced yourself of what you have to offer.
Step Two: Practice What You Preach. You often know what you need to do in order to advance your talents. The most obvious route of action being, if you want to get better at something, you have to keep practicing it. In order to evolve as a writer, I need to regularly write, read, and research. I have to reach out to publications and get my work out there. If I don't take the initiative to turn these thoughts into action, then I am wasting my potential as a writer.
If you sit on your potential, with time it will wither. It's not enough to recognize it, just like it's not enough to know that smoking is bad for you in order to stop smoking. For results to come, there needs to be some sort of action.
Step Three: Bring Your Potential To Life. You cannot solely lean on your potential to move forward in life. You may have the raw materials, but you still need to figure out how to build. I still have no idea where my passion for writing will take me, and that's not the focus right now. What matters is building the foundation from which bigger opportunities can stem from. You may not quite understand what you're building yet, but what matters is that you're paving the way to enact your potential in the real world. As one of my favorite quotes by Picasso goes: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
Wasted potential happens when you don't act on your talents, privilege, or whatever other opportunities you have been blessed with. People - countries even (hint: Italy) - make the grave mistake of believing that potential is enough to carry them through life, and it may be indeed possible to coast up to a certain point. Without proper direction, though, channeling that potential into success will become problematic.
We have to work to guide our vision, and have faith that if we do so, it will eventually lead us to the success we seek. After all, Rome wasn't built in one day.