Published May 13, 2013

Remember my success equation? Success = potential + opportunities.

I wanted to share my thoughts on potential. As I mentioned before, potential is everywhere in an academic setting. It’s hard for me to not think about it.

Potential is necessary for success.

A simple example is a math test. You build up potential by studying the material, doing practice problems, and understanding key concepts. You’re given the opportunity to succeed when you’re given the test, and you’ll succeed given that you had enough potential to do so. The definition of success might vary but the general principle is the same.

Potential opens up opportunities.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

– Louis Pasteur

Whenever I think about this stuff, I remember what Joe Satriani mentioned in a video on YouTube. He says something like it’s important for guitar players to know all of the modes) in every key all over the guitar. He says it’s important because once you know them and you’re listening to some other player you can immediately go, “that’s Aeolian!” or “that’s Phrygian dominant!” and you get more out of listening to what the person is playing.

The more potential you have, the more opportunities you get. If you learn a new scale on an instrument, that’s a whole new avenue of creativity and improvisation. If you learn a new programming language, you’re suddenly exposed to a bunch of new opportunities like internships or projects.

Finding opportunities is hard for some. For others, it’s a simple email away. If you want to be successful, aim to maximize your potential. Seriously, if you have enough potential, you won’t even have to try that hard. Think of it as fishing in the ocean with a net. the bigger the net, the more fish you can capture. If your net is big enough, fish will just end up in there one way or another.

Potential means a lot of things.

You build up potential in many ways, and the idea of “potential” is multifaceted. Just because you can pull an all-nighter to study for an exam and build up your potential for success doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do so. Getting enough rest also builds potential. Taking breaks is just as important.

Make it genuine.

Sometimes I look back at my resume and notice that I started to learn some of the things on there when I was in elementary school. Back then, I probably didn’t even know what a resume was. I installed my first LAMP) stack because I was genuinely interested and curious about how websites worked. I know it’s tempting, but try to avoid learning things for the sake of learning them. Be genuine.

I asked myself in a thought experiment recently: “Why do you spend hours working on a project that you don’t get paid to work on and no one told you to do so?” I’m working on a Go database driver for FoundationDB, and it’s rather complicated. My answer is: I don’t know, but it’s fun and I’m learning a lot. I literally spent hours trying to figure out how this thing works. I could be watching TV shows or playing video games, but I’m trying to solve a problem that I made for myself. I wouldn’t say it’s fun, because I get frustrated and start thinking about it non-stop and it becomes an obsession. At the end of the day, I know I didn’t waste my time even if I scrap the entire project. The knowledge (and potential) I gained by working on it make it worth it.

I think in college it’s very easy to get sucked into thoughts like “what am I going to do after I graduate?” This is the time when you really have to try to commit to a major and career path. Often times people have absolutely no idea what to do, and it gets stressful for them. The only piece of advice I can give them is the following: “Find something you like to do, get better at it, and do it better than anyone else.” I’m not sure if you’ll be successful that way, but hopefully you’ll be happier along the way.