I'm currently spending a semester abroad – I'm living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and taking classes at the Universidad de San Andrés. I speak Spanish very well, but with an American accent, so people can tell that I'm a foreigner. And occasionally while I'm speaking with someone, they will comment that I speak Spanish well.
I know that everyone means this as a compliment and is just trying to encourage me, but I take it as motivation. I want to get to the point where people don't feel the need to give me that compliment anymore. I know that I'll always have an accent that betrays that I'm not a native speaker, but I want to trick people into thinking that I've spent years living here and have near-native fluency.
The German businessman making a deal in New York City isn't complimented on how good his English is. If he receives a compliment, it's regarding his business savvy. It's taken for granted that he speaks fluent English. That's the level that I want to get to with Spanish.
And I think that we should strive to get to this level with anything that we're passionate about in life. If something is worth doing, it's worth going all out.
So now, when someone tells me that I have great potential, or that I'm going to do great things, I no longer take it as a compliment. What I hear is "You haven't done anything yet." And I know that they don't mean it this way, and it still feels nice to hear, but at the same time it's a good form of motivation. Potential doesn't mean anything – it's what you do with that potential that counts.
I'm 20 years old. In just the past year or two, I've felt this sense of urgency; a need to make something out of my life. Literally my biggest fear is that I won't have made a difference in the world; I am terrified of dying with regrets. This makes sense evolutionarily; just a few hundred years ago, my life would already be half over.
Life is short – the clock is ticking and it's time to get to work. What are you going to do with your potential?