The problem with potential

A colleague asked me for help on his dissertation topic. He asked if I would respond to some prompts:

– As a coach, what do you see / define as personal ‘potential’?
– In your experience, how can coaching help coachees reach their ‘potential’?
– How has coaching helped you, personally, fulfil your ‘potential’?
I think “potential” has no dependable meaning and lacks a specific referent. It is a word/concept that suggests that a person’s current manifestation or display (characteristics, skills, performance, maturity, etc.) is capable of advancing in some way. “How you are today does not represent the limit of your possibility.” To the extent that the idea of potential opens up a conversation about advancing in some important way beyond current (self) expectations, it can be quite helpful.
Measure of potential are measures of some present construct (intelligence of various sorts, for instance) that have some demonstrated or hypothesized relationship with future performance. They propose that “if you are smart enough in some measurable way that you are likely to be able to perform in the next phase of your life in such and such a way.” When we are young, that is most often a measure of your current school performance as a predictor of your next school performance.
So, the typical metaphor of “fulfilling your potential” is problematic in a variety of ways. It posits some characteristic, called potential, that represents an open space, an emptiness, that could be filled. The metaphor implies an inelastic quantity of possibility for a given individual and, as a coach, that worries me because it invokes the idea of fixed possibility. There’s plenty of evidence that such an idea cannot be substantiated. We are all growing in unpredictable ways and assumptions about our development, while potentially limiting in the way of all self-fulfilling prophecies, can be crushed by an inspired individual or can be crushing in the case of a very suggestible person.
wrt to my coaching experience: fortunately I’ve garnered insights, conversions, growth, improvement, enjoyment, reversals, and correction in coaching, but nothing in my change model has done much to help me fulfill my potential other than demolishing the idea of a known horizon of potential and opening to a perpetually receding limit.