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What Would Life Be Like if You Reached Your Full Potential?

We asked soldiers, events staff, music A&Rs, journalists and IT workers, among others, how their lives could have turned out if they weren't such piece-of-shit failures.

The author at work

Loads of people don't reach their full potential. It's a fact of life. For the most part, by and large, people are just too lazy. They can't be arsed to get up and go. Go getter? You go get it! I want to sit here and see if Wotsits dust will hurt my penis if enough of it goes in my urethra while I masturbate with Wotsits-dust hands!

Take me as an example: I feel like if I didn't fart around and take my school's average grade down a notch just by existing, I could have been doing pretty well by now. I was always told I was "bright", but I kind of took that to mean "you can just do what you like and you'll be fine because you're not thick". Little did I know it wasn't quite enough to give me instant success and, two sackings and a redundancy into my short life, I realise I probably could have done with working a bit harder.


Had I worked harder I think I'd probably be writing books. Big old history books. Well researched books. I'd be presenting a cool BBC documentary about various wars, simplifying it for the plebs out there so that they too could be clever clogs like me. I'd be loved and respected and wealthy, and the housing crisis would just be a headline that I'd read in my conservatory while calmly eating my boiled eggs and soldiers, not in a rush to go anywhere at all. Instead, I wake up every day in a panic and end every day in disappointment.

Here are some other people talking about how things are going for them.


If I'd applied myself in earnest throughout my life I'd probably have reached all that unspecified potential my school teachers kept talking about. I'd have retrained and fixed the knee I fucked up during my physical theatre stint at uni and would most likely be an amazing contemporary dancer and less of drug addict.

Or I'd be an amazing contemporary dancer who could afford better drugs.


I'm quite happy at my job at VICE, but I got a first in Politics from Cambridge so I probably should be doing something better with my time. I just googled people who graduated from my course and they include: the Hollywood actress Tilda Swinton, Pointless host Richard Osman and disgraced journalist Johann Hari. I suppose that latter option is still very much on the table.


I think there is probably a version of my life where I did a Masters in Political Economy at an American university, married a thoughtful but beautiful liberal from Indiana or somewhere and then the two of us go to work in Washington at an NGO or something. Actually, I think I'm just describing the plot of Parks and Recreation.


I work in the office of a football club, which I enjoy a lot because of the variety of tasks I'm charged with and the sense of camaraderie with my colleagues. While it's a job I'm quite happy to do, there is the feeling I have reached something of a professional ceiling and, despite trying, I'm finding it hard to get promoted. To a point I'm happy to get my head down and carry on, because prior to this job I spent time on the dole or working terrible temp jobs.

If I could have changed the way I lived my life I would have chosen and focused on a more specialised role – for example, dealing with the media or legal aspects of football, rather than the more administrative work I currently do. If I had been more aware of my educational and professional decisions when I was younger I might have reached my full potential.

That said, hindsight is 20/20 and it's impossible to know what will happen to you, especially since the working world changes so quickly. Many people I know change jobs practically on a yearly basis, but I've been here seven years doing my job, which I am good at, and I'm happy enough to carry on for now. In short, if I had reached my full potential I might have a better paid, more specialised job – but I'm not complaining, really.


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JACK, 27, A&R

What would I be doing now if everything had gone the way it was supposed to? Well, personally, I do not see the fact that I spend my days trying to track down the publishing info for a saxophone sample from 1974 or agonising over 0.5 seconds of crackle on a test pressing as widely symptomatic of some sort of degenerative idleness or spiritual torpor, but admittedly I am not a doctor or lawyer. I'm not even a tinker, tailor or candlestick maker. I am, however, a relatively poor man, so let's roll with this for the sake of argument.

A better question would possibly be to ask, "What does my mother wish I was doing?" She actually touched upon this in an email recently where she berated me for yet another in a series of minor life disasters. After one or two paragraphs of seething invective I think she probably realised that she could potentially be authoring a text that would end up in the tragedy porn pages of the Evening Standard (although I'm not liked by everyone who knows me and certainly not a talented footballer, so it may not have made it regardless) and so reined it in a bit in concluding: "I love you so much, but I do wish you'd made better choices with that great brain of yours."

Well, if only I'd not heard the clarion call of indie calling in 2007 and continued my stellar start to academic life (catapulted from a special measures school that was run by a psychopathic pseud who was eventually caught siphoning off the PE budget to fund his expensive plonk collection into the dizzy flashbulbs of the local paper as star pupil) into university, then I think by now I could probably be just about finishing a law degree, possibly with some sort of placement in a practice on the Strand.


If only I'd never gone on that tour with Late of the Pier (I was only meant to go for one day and ended up on the bus for two weeks; the tour manager was an ex-addict who relapsed and went berserk in Brighton over a game of Fifa, took off both his shoes and threw them at the band's manager before running off bare-foot into the night – it is to this day one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen) and missed my first year exams then things could be rather different indeed.

I'd probably have at least five identical clean white shirts hanging in my wardrobe at all times. I'd have Wasabi or Itsu for lunch every day instead of beans on toast and beers in the office at five o'clock on a Friday. I'd have a driving license but no car (little point in the city, but nice when you're on holiday), a Netflix account, a steady girlfriend I'd see two or three times a week and a lot more money for cocaine at the weekends. I'm so sorry mum, I never meant to let you down.

P.S. the tour manager was not seen or heard from for two years after his disappearance, eventually being traced to Australia after someone came across his avatar on World of Warcraft.


I'm a classic underachiever in the sense that when I was young I was told I was incredibly smart and would be able to do anything if I put my mind to it. This lead to an inevitable belief that everything I want in life would come easily to me. If I did life "right" (did my homework at school, did my coursework in college, did ANYTHING other than getting stoned all the time) I imagine I could have actually come out of education as a much more qualified individual who would have been a more valued member of the workforce.


I'd probably be in the same line of work, just with a lot more money.

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I never started to think of things as a sad "if only" scenario. Being a soldier in my Regiment means every day you have to better yourself if you don't you fall by the wayside. Serving in the British Army has been something I've wanted to do since I was young. It has given me a remarkable sense of accomplishment and the ability to reach my goals, despite how many times you fail. Failure is inevitable – it's how you re-organise yourself mentally and physically, and it's how you overcome it that defines you. The army is like any employer, full of good bosses and bad bosses, good people and bad people, and you don't get to pick who you are thrown to hell and back with. Learning how to carry on and overcome is a gift. It has been a wild, amazing ride.


I'm not quite sure how to answer this question, to be honest, as I'm not sure what you mean by "potential". Thinking about where / when I could have worked harder would probably have been most effective when I was in school, doing A-levels or various exams. I remember teachers telling me I hadn't reached my "full potential and needed to pull your socks up", but I never really knew how much further I needed to push myself. What are you pushing yourself for? Do we value ourselves only by our economic output?


I still managed to go to university and finish with good grades. You're always taught, from a young age, that these grades will make a difference in your future, in terms of employment, but I don't think they really do. I think the precariousness of the world we live in today has definitely defined what I can and cannot do in terms of employment. Ideally I wouldn't have to be working three demanding jobs to survive. It's difficult when you compare yourself to others who are more successful and you internalise the fear or worry that you're not good enough, or not where you're supposed to be. I guess reaching my full potential would mean I was happy working one job in a field that I care about – the arts education sector, which I hope to go into after finishing my MA. Not having to work other low-paid jobs to support that career path would make me happy and it would be so nice not to constantly worry about money, to be comfortable and free to do the things that I want without hesitation.


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