A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.


Potential greatness always shows up small at first. The trees start their springtime with tiny buds, a hint of purplish red in the woods before that blast of golden green. Baby birds and lots of animals start out looking completely ridiculous and mature into eagles and cats. Love starts with a few sentences, a shared smile. Lives start with the meeting of single cells. Most every new skill feels impossible before we try it, unlikely the first few times we actually do it, and smooth and wonderful once the practice starts to pay off and you get in the zone.

To spot potential, we need to look close, with focused attention, like parents celebrating a baby’s first muddled syllables and unsteady steps. We know they’re setting out on an amazing journey. We also know they’ll fall a thousand times and mispronounce a million words on their way to competence, and that’s fine, or it should be anyway. Rushing a baby to walk or talk would be pointless. 

Rushing kids into almost anything is pointless, for that matter, unless you’re escaping hordes of large carnivores, in which case the kids will probably be rushing right along with you. Most ways, babies and kids will let you know when they’re ready to take the next step on the journey, one that never ends as long as we’re breathing.

To reach our own potential, we have to give ourselves that same patient, focused attention that a good parent gives a child. Not every waking minute, because that’s just crazy making; some of the best moments are those when we’re in the zone and free, just as no kid wants their parent up in their face every second. But everyone alive craves that feeling of being seen, of mattering. Kids need it the way they need food and water; not ever getting it can warp your emotions at any age. (I could fill the whole page with examples of the shenanigans adults get up to seeking attention, but why? You know, so do I; we can hardly avoid them if we try.)

Fortunately it’s something we can learn to give to ourselves in ways that matter. (Someone needs to tell bullies, reality show contestants and keyboard warriors this.) And it’s when we give that quality attention that we can spot those subtle seeds of potential, whether it’s in ourselves, a child, a friend or the whole community. Expertise starts with being intrigued by something. Movements start with thoughts that become conversations that become actions. Many changes that we make that improve ourselves and our situations start with a feeling of unease. The ingredient that sparks that potential into flame is paying attention to that initial thought or feeling.

Once we know what that potential might be, we can find mentors, people who have had some practice with whatever it is we seek to accomplish. Thanks to the internet, finding subject-specific mentors is easier than it ever was. There’s a how-to for everything: fixing a clogged sink, traveling to Asia, building a shed. There are courses and tutorials on every subject under the sun. Then there are flesh-and-blood mentors of all sorts. We can seek them out for their expertise or—if we’re paying attention—run into them by sheer chance as we’re going about our business.

Not every kid gets the kind of focused attention that helps potential bloom, and it’s not always the parent’s fault, either. Life’s hard and most of us do our best. We’re very lucky to live in a community where there are loads of organizations that strive to pick up some of the slack, each of which started with an idea. None of them can do it alone. 

“The structures are in place,” says Frank Waters, executive director of My Kingston Kids. “YouthBuild, Raising Hope, Seasoned Gives, My Brother’s Keeper, Mentor Me. We have entrepreneurship mentoring, troubled teen mentoring, boy mentoring, girl mentoring, foster kid mentoring, support groups for all kinds of issues. What everyone doing this work needs, always, is more people stepping up to just give of their time and attention. And you don’t need to be perfect yourself to help out. Any struggle you’ve been through, somebody else out there is struggling with right now and needs to know what you’ve learned.”

Babies learn to walk and talk without anyone pushing them. The potential in them leads them to push themselves. All of us have budding seeds of potential that will make us stronger, more loving and more skilled if we pay attention—or make us miserable if we ignore them. Once we pay attention and start nurturing the potential, it’s like watering a flower, and the universe has a way of cooperating with us, pouring sunshine down on our green shoots. The potential’s already in us to be happier, wiser and more comfortable, in the world and in our own skin—listen for its call, subtle as the first red buds of springtime.