Pearl #5: Potential is Unlimited. Opportunity is Not.

Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.

Potential is Unlimited. Opportunity is Not.

Paths Yet to Be Created

You might be familiar with a book called The Other Wes Moore – One name, two fates. The book tells the story of two kids with the same name who grew up in the same rough neighborhood. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. In his book, Wes Moore explores how these two paths diverged. 

Wes Moore the scholar’s path was not without challenges, but as he learned about the other Wes Moore, he came to the conclusion that though human potential is unlimited, circumstances can conspire to ensure that opportunity is not.  

For most people, potential is one of the best parts of childhood, including the potential to dream, to create, to learn. The word potential implies that nothing is set, that a path has yet to be created. 

Opportunity Requires Cultivation, but Not All Opportunity Receives It

Potential is inherent. It is opportunity that must be cultivated. Yet, to cultivate, we must have seeds, soil, water, air and sun – nutrients. What does that look like in dysfunctional families and neighborhoods with limited resources? What does it look like to grow up with potential, but no opportunity to cultivate? 

It might look like Lola*, who was born an addict because her mom got her hooked on heroin in utero. After spending the first eight years of her life on methadone, a non-addictive treatment for heroin, her uncle got her hooked again when she was ten when he shot her up as his first step toward controlling and abusing her. 

It might look like Milagra*, whose earliest memories include waking up in the middle of night to noise in the house, opening her bedroom door, and seeing the house full of people partying and doing drugs.  

Or it might look like getting dropped off at a grandparent’s home while Carrie’s* mom ran off with her abusive boyfriend. 

Having no opportunity looks like many things, but what all of the scenarios have in common is that they all squash potential. I’ve heard the saying that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. But this saying presupposes that one has the wherewithal to prepare, along with a feeling of self-efficacy; a belief that what one does has an effect on the outcome. 

Our Role in Helping to Rediscover Potential

In our 30 years we have learned that it is the Bean Project’s role to help the women we serve rediscover their potential in order to create their futures. This may mean turning away from what they might have believed their destiny to be. We cannot accept that their destiny is to experience chronic unemployment, poverty, incarceration, addiction. We can’t allow the women to believe that there is nothing better in store for them. 

By the time women come to the Bean Project, they have likely experienced years of feeling their potential was being squelched because opportunity didn’t exist. We must help them by serving as a bridge of this gap for the short term, helping them realize that their opportunities for a brighter future lie in their ability to re-tap their unlimited potential. How lucky are we to serve in this way? 

*Names were changed to honor the women’s privacy. 

Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO

Find the entire list of “30 Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” here.

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