potential353

Michael Phelps might have won 20 medals if he didn't do this.

Ever heard someone say "I'm scared of never fulfilling my potential"?

Maybe you've felt that way yourself as you read about Olympic athletes who also study law or Hollywood starlets publishing their first novel.

It hangs over all of us like a threatening cloud or glorious rainbow - depending on your outlook - our potential; what we might be, what we can do.

At the beginning of the 2002 George Clooney film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the protagonist talks to himself saying: "When you're young, your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be great. You might be Einstein. You might be Goethe.

"Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren't Einstein. You weren't anything. That's a bad moment."

Or a good one, because in the bright light of this realisation you can either run shrieking for a bottle of red wine ... or try harder.

There are plenty of things that stop people from achieving their dreams - bad luck and bad self-talk being two, but I reckon bad decisions pretty much rule the roost.

And of the many bad decisions we can make in our lives, smashing yourself with drugs and booze have to be number one and two with a bullet (aside from appearing on a renovation reality TV show).

This might sound revisionist coming from a person who's publicly admitted using cocaine, pot, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, speed and much 16-year-old Scotch, as well as rubbing Vegemite on his eyeballs in the hope of a high.

However, the truth is, I regret a lot of my drug and booze use and, whenever I speak to kids about either, I offer one of the few epiphanies I got from annihilating myself.

"I wonder how smart I would be today if I hadn't pulled 80,000 bongs in my teens," I say, but could easily replace marijuana with any of the chemical temptations youngsters face each weekend.

I also wonder if I'd have been a more successful person or a happier person and how much of my potential I threw away clouding my brain's soup with god knows what freaky stock cubes.

In the past few weeks, the debate about the legalisation of drugs has become somewhat louder thanks to Lisa Pryor's brilliant new A Small Book About Drugs.

One of Pryor's main arguments is that we can't hope to have an informed debate about recreational drug use when the gazillions of well-regarded professionals who've used drugs and been none the worse for wear, are shamed into silence.

The knobbly truth is you can use drugs and still be a success, a good person and a responsible citizen but that message gets drowned out by horror stories about kids dying from their first ever pill or line.

I cannot count the number of media personalities I've met who do drugs but write opinion pieces, news stories or front cameras looking stern and disapproving about the use of those same substances, as well as parents who deny their drug past to their children.

It makes me wonder if it really is better to lie to kids, tell them drugs are bad, or be honest and tell them drugs can be good and bad?

For me, it comes down to the issue of use versus abuse, which is a hard line to draw sometimes (especially at 2am) and ultimately becomes moot if opportunity is slipping you by because you're regularly f---ed up.

However, as someone who's perpetually concerned about "fulfilling my potential" and has used plenty of drugs and booze over the years, I can tell you it's also very difficult to attempt one while doing the other.

A SMALL BOOK ABOUT DRUGS

I'll be in conversation with Lisa Pryor, author of A Small Book About Drugs at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, Sydney, on Tuesday night (August 30). Cost is $10/$7 concession. To book call 9660 2333.

MELBOURNE

Jeez, don't I have some fans in Melbourne? Every single-speed bike-riding university lit student with a tumblr blog down there seems to think I'm an arsewipe, so it'll come as wonderful news to them all I'll be speaking at the iconic Sun bookshop in Yarraville on September 14. It's a free event, but bookings are essential so call 03 9689 0661 or email info@sunbookshop.com.

MUMBRELLA

If that's not enough fat, 42-year-old writer for you, here's a very generously edited video interview I did a few weeks back with Mumbrella's Tim Burrowes.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.