The tragic nature of wondering ‘what could have been?’

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

Can we all agree that we all want to amount to something in life? What if you never get the chance?

I’ll admit to all of you that I am a pretty emotional dude. There are plenty of things that get my gears turning, but nothing gets me more upset than thinking about the amount of potential in this world that gets lost or is wasted.

Having talent is a blessing. However, with talent comes the curse of living up to the potential.

In this world, everyone has potential, but it’s not always fulfilled. Reaching your potential means only one thing — you achieved your goals. If you didn’t, your potential was either lost or wasted — both are equally tragic.

Lost potential is understandable as it most commonly comes in the form of one’s untimely demise, something usually out of one’s control. Examples that immediately come to my mind include actor Chris Farley, NFL safety Sean Taylor, rapper Jarad Higgins, most well known as Juice WRLD and singer Jahseh Onfroy, commonly known as XXXTentacion.

These four men left this earth far too young in life. When they died, Farley was 33 years old, Taylor was 24, Higgins was 21 and Onfroy was 20. What makes these instances so tragic is that these four were all on track to become undisputed greats in their respective professions. Each of them received acclaim for their work in life, only to have their lives be cut short by murder or addiction.

What they left behind is now frozen in time. There is no new work to look forward to; what’s left is all there is. We can sit down and watch a Farley film or a highlight reel of Taylor, but the sense of finality that comes from the viewing is what makes them so tragic. They all had so much time to navigate the ebbs and flows of a career, to change with time and grow as people.

However, when an up-and-coming career is cut off so abruptly, there is one positive way to look at it: the individual never gets a chance to fail. If someone is loved at the time of their death, they will always be loved. They never need to fight to remain in the spotlight or stay liked by the public.

The immortal words of Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight” have never rang more true: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Listening to Onfroy’s work might just be the saddest of all. His music meant a lot to my generation, but going back through it now, all that can be said is that it’s half finished. In this case, that’s not entirely a bad thing. There was so much room for him to grow as an artist. He was just barely 20 years old when he was killed on June 18, 2018.

For a few years after his death, the rap community spoke about how great he could have been. But five years later, what’s left to be said?

Onfroy and Higgins aren’t the only ones to have suffered this fate. There were enough people in the music industry that died at the age of 21 or younger for it to receive the nickname “The 21 Club,” which is a play off “The 27 Club,” the latter meant to encapsulate all the artists who died at 27 years old or younger. Other members of this dubious club include Pop Smoke and Lil Peep, both artists who left us before they had a chance to leave a bigger impact on the world.

When potential is lost, the individual is still remembered fondly for what they tried to offer the world. But when potential is wasted, memories of the individual are anything but fond.

If someone has potential and wastes it, it’s a conscious decision. One can be on the path to greatness and then choose not to follow it. It’s arguably worse. People with lost potential didn’t have a choice.

Usually one can find examples of wasted potential within their hometown. I know a few, but one just feels sadder than the others.

When my youngest brother played middle school football, he had a teammate that my dad and I agreed was a step above the rest. I remember my dad telling me he thought this kid had the “second gear” when it comes to speed, something you see from professionals, not the average seventh grader. He was exciting, something that could bring pride to my town when given a few years. Instead, it was all a flash in the pan.

We gave him a few years, and they were used up by going down the wrong path. He never played a down of football after eighth grade. Instead of being the star, he’s the one kid my brother tells me stories about when I’m home, stories about criminal activities and causing trouble for others at school. My dad and I are now left thinking about where he should have been compared to where he is now.

Whether it gets lost or is wasted by its owner, unfulfilled potential makes me wholly upset. These people never get the chance to become as great as they’re supposed to be, and in the case of lost potential, they never get the chance to fail. Destiny is fickle, yet it always leaves people wondering about what could have been instead of what is.