All I want for Christmas is more potential

by | Dec 27, 2023 | Pop/Life

photo from Penguin Books

I am one of those people who is difficult to shop for. Modern Christmas, you know, the capitalist part of the holiday, is something that died in me after my children aged out of the Santa Claus years. Don’t get me wrong, those were good times. And those boys got some really cool things that I often enjoyed as much or more than they did. 

They weren’t the only ones who aged out though. I’m old enough to have acquired all of the things that I really want, or accepted that possessing some aspirational memento was just not meant to be. So, now a great gift for me might be the offer to take things away. The crap in my garage, for example, take it all!

However, aside from a liberating cleanse of a lifetime’s worth of accumulated junk, there are some invaluable things I want for all of us. I think they’ll help make us better.

I finished Adam Grant’s new book, “Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things,” last week. Dr. Grant is an organizational psychologist, and a tenured professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is that rare someone I discovered on Twitter who makes me think, and more importantly, helps me learn.

This Christmas, I want more of that. Learning, not X.  

Take it easy out there. Yes, I am aware that I am already a teacher myself. Also yes, I have learned more since becoming a teacher than I have in any other stretch in my life. Dr. Grant writes about this: that teaching, coaching and mentoring others is often the best way to learn more, or to learn more deeply, or to just learn better. 

So, my next Christmas wish: more teaching. I can’t wait to get back to teaching in a couple of weeks. What might I learn? 

The book has a chapter all of my students will read before the semester begins. Yes, I’m that professor. It’s titled, “Imperfectionists: Finding the Sweet Spot between Flawed and Flawless.” Our culture has grown comfortable striving for perfect, and have for far too long referred to people, even ourselves, endearingly as “perfectionists.” I shed the use of the word a few years ago, and now I have a smart person affirming my problem with it.

I teach speech and writing. If there is anything I can’t stand, it’s a speech or an essay being delivered in an attempt to be “flawless.” Too many young people have been conditioned to believe that being mistake-free is somehow more valuable than being genuine. It isn’t. 

In “Hidden,” Grant tells a story about his time as a competitive diver. His high school diving coach explains how getting a “10” from the judges is not a “perfect” score, but a score that signifies excellence. His view is that there is no such thing as a perfect dive. A flaw can be found in all of them.

I ask all of my speech classes this question: Have you ever had a perfect conversation? I always get at least one sucker to walk into my trap by claiming, “Yes! I absolutely have!” I have a ball pointing out the priceless errors during their descriptions of “perfect.” Like a dive, every conversation is also flawed. 

For Christmas this year, I want more people to have more productive conversations, more fulfilling and valuable conversations. And may they be more genuine too.

Dr. Grant has a chapter about designing better schools, and sharing in detail the example of Finland. I will reread this chapter many times, but one thing really hyped me up. He wrote about a common practice there known as “looping,” or having students stay with teachers for multiple and consecutive school years. I am having some experience with that this school year, just by dumb luck.

My speech class is primarily a freshman class. This year, I am teaching writing, a sophomore class. About a third of my students this year took my speech class last year. Of course, they are all brilliant! With two full doses of Professor Leppert, who wouldn’t be? 

The truth is, they chose that second dose of me on purpose. And if I could choose my students, I would choose the ones I had already connected with too. I’m convinced looping works, even though before last week, I thought looping was golf slang for caddying. 

My Christmas wish for all of you? This book. Whether you are a teacher, student, entrepreneur or athlete, there is a strategy in it that can help you learn how to achieve greater things. 

What do I really want for Christmas? A garage with less in it. I’m convinced my potential is hiding underneath it.


  1. Sheila Kennedy

    Excellent! (Not perfect…)

  2. Alex Griesemer

    Great article Professor Leppert. I would love to see more opportunities for looping, where I have the same professors throughout my time in college. My perspective is anecdotal from the 2.5 years I have already gone through, but I am certain I only connected with a handful of my professors and if I had the chance to take them again, I absolutely would if it made sense (I.e. prerequisite classes, honors classes, major classes). Also, I just got Hidden Potential with my monthly audible credit, thanks for the Christmas Gift of a recommendation!

    • Michael Leppert

      Thank you for chiming in Alex! As one of my best students, who arrived in class on Day 1 already ahead of everyone, I wish I had a chance to push you farther. If this book was written for anyone, it’s you. Pay close attention to the section with Steph Curry’s experience in it!

    • Samuel Merenfeld

      Brilliantly said. I too will embark on the noble journey of clearing out the junk in my garage. Will definitely be giving Hidden Potential a read, thanks for the recommendation!


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