Should We Fulfill Our Potential?


I read a book review in the New Yorker last week and have been puzzling over it since. The review was written by Joan Acocella about the book Missing: In Praise of the Unlived Life by Adam Phillips. Acocella says:
“Adam Phillips, Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer, dislikes the modern notion that we should all be out there fulfilling our potential. In his new book, he argues that, instead of feeling that we should have a better life, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness. What makes us think that we could have been a contender? Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible. ‘And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives,’ Phillips writes. ‘Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.’”

My first thought was to wonder what Carl Jung would say about that. (The article goes further to say that Phillips is a Freudian, so that explains that.) My second thought is that our unlived lives do become the story of our lives if we don’t deal with them in some way, and Jung tells us that this is really our life’s work. My third thought was that we should at the same time be living the lives we have in the most gratifying way as possible.

1 Response to “Should We Fulfill Our Potential?”

  1. 1 c March 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Oh, so complex….yet again, so simple! 😉

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The NWA Friends of Jung meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month in the library at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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