Lost Potential = Lesson Learned

June 4, 2008
By Elisa Garcia, Poway, CA

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping, while my guitar gently weeps. Everyone in the world has the potential to love, but only some do. I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping, still my guitar gently weeps. Everyone in the world has the potential to change, but only some do. I don’t know how someone controlled you… Everyone in the world has the potential to think for themselves, but only some do. The world is full of potential, but so often it is wasted.
As a diehard perfectionist, I often mourn for the lost potential in the world. I often find myself frustrated with people for not living up to their potential. I often criticize myself for falling short of my own potential. But is this lost potential really wasted at all?
A day that I cannot forget was the day I almost got a B. Up until that point my entire high school career had written by flawless report cards with a column of A’s and A+’s lined up perfectly like soldiers in marching formation. My report card can testify to the sort of student—and person—that I am. I am the student who always does her homework and not only do I always do my homework, but I always do it to the best of my ability. I am the student who raises her hand in class every time there is a pause in the discussion or the teacher asks a question. I am the student who leans forward, not because I am about to doze off, but because I am intrigued by the lessons in class. I am the student who is hungry for knowledge and even hungrier for perfection.
So, I remember the day I almost got a B very vividly. I remember that day because it was the day that my perfect world almost ended. It was a lab day and since the end of the semester was quickly approaching, my teacher had scheduled into her lesson plans mini student conferences with each student regarding grades.
“Elisa Garcia,” she called out to the chatty class.
I walked confidently to her desk at the front of the room. What did I have to fear? I had done all of my homework and performed moderately well on all of the hugely weighted tests. And then I looked at the computer screen…
“WHAT?” I exclaimed. How could I not? I had done everything right. At least everything I knew.
“Yes,” my teacher confirmed, “you are sitting very close to the border.”
“So, do you think I can get an A?” I asked in desperation. I was willing to do anything. Well almost anything.
“You need to score high on the final,” she responded. THE FINAL! This had to be some sort of cruel joke. The final she was referring to is the one that natives set the curve for. The final she was referring to is the one that is basically a Spanish literacy test. The final she was referring to is the one that is impossible. Or at least impossible for those of us who are currently in their third year of Spanish, for those of us who have strong “Anglo accents,” for those of us whose default answer when called on in class is “No sé.”
The task I was faced with was one far more daunting than any other I had faced before. The day of the final I made sure that I had a hearty breakfast and a substantial amount of green tea. I also made sure that I had an entire pack of Stride Sweet Mint gum because I have heard and also believe that gum helps you focus when testing. Butterflies were doing somersaults like airplanes in an air show in the pit of my stomach. My heart was pounding so fast and hard, that I felt like it might burst from my chest.
Luckily, my nerves—and a little adrenaline—fuel success most of the time. And once my teacher hit the play button on the silver stereo at the front of the room, I zoned out to the wondrous land of español instead of my usual daydreams. I forced myself to tune out the boy who was tapping his fingers on a nearby desk. I forced myself to make sense of the foreign conversation that was streaming out of the speakers. I forced myself to interpret each and every emphasis. I forced myself to find any trace of emotion in the speaker’s voice. I forced myself to get a sense of what the speaker was saying despite the fact that about one half of the words that came from his mouth were meaningless mumbles to me. I forced myself to succeed. I forced myself to pull off the lowest possible A, a 90%, and although this score would normally depress me, no A I have ever earned in my high school career has ever been sweeter.
I had succeeded. I had attained the A. I had reached my potential. But looking back I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t? What would have happened if I did not reach my potential? Would my world really have ended? Perhaps, it would have begun. If I had received the B, I would have learned a very valuable lesson that I have yet to learn. By earning the B, I would have learned the hard lesson of letting go. In falling short of my potential, I would have realized that sometimes there is only so much that is in your control and you have to accept that. Perhaps, losing that battle for my potential would not have been such a waste after all.

In the novel The Great Gatsby, by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Jay Gatsby tries to win back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan, through his ruthless and sometimes immoral pursuit of wealth and status, which he feels is his potential. However, Gatsby ultimately fails. By the end of the novel, Daisy retreats back to her bullying old money husband, there is still a distinct gap between him and the old money, and Gatsby is murdered due to someone else’s misinterpretation. Gatsby fell short in his pursuit of Daisy, wealth, and status. Gatsby fell short in reaching his potential. The concluding lines of the novel provide us with insight into the lesson learned by Gatsby and all those striving to reach their potential. The novel concludes when the narrator, Nick explains that the green light which represents the future or a goal “year by year recedes before us,” and no matter how hard we strive towards a goal or a future, no matter how much progress we make, it will continue to elude us (Fitzgerald). And even though a goal may have eluded us in the past, “that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald). Nick describes the inexorable struggle that people face who try to re-create the past in the future face. Gatsby’s failure to reach his potential—or his dream—teaches us an important lesson: it is impossible to impose the past in the elusive and uncontrollable future. His lost potential was surely not wasted.

Lost potential does not call for mourning; it calls for learning. Instead of mourning for lost potential in others, in myself, I now overanalyze it—like everything else—to death. And through this analysis and close examination, through this reflection, I gain insight; I learn.
I look at the world and I notice it's turning, but my guitar no longer weeps anymore.
With every mistake we must surely be learning sings my guitar and I guess that is all I can ask for in this world.

Works Cited
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925. eBooks@Adelaide. The University of Adelaide Library. 4 June 2008 .
Italics are lyrics to While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison.

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