People on Reddit were asked: “In all of human history, which single person has been the biggest waste of potential?” These are some of the best answers.
1. I wonder what Steven would say to this
Not a waste of potential but maybe a limiting of potential. I’ve often wondered what Steven Hawking could have achieved without the burden of his illness.
2. Giving credit where credit is due
Marcia Lucas is almost totally ignored for her contributions to Star Wars while her ex husband George gets all the credit. By all accounts, the first cuts of Star Wars were horrendous B-movie tripe until Marcia got to editing them. She won an Oscar for her efforts. She also made several important creative contributions to the script, such as the idea to kill off Ben during his fight with Darth Vader. The pair divorced after Empire Strikes Back and George took on the rest of Star Wars on his own, with legendarily iffy results.
3. Creativity without productivity can be aimless
Charles Babbage. This [guy] spent his entire life working on designs for analog computers in the 1800s. He had the financial backers. He had interested parties that would have used his tech. And most importantly, he had working designs to build it.
And he didn’t build a damn thing. Why? Guy couldn’t stop trying to work on designs long enough to actually make anything a reality. We only know his designs work because the simpler of his designs, the one he needed to keep his backers and interested parties, was built in the 1990s and functioned flawlessly.
It’s not even a dinky one-use computer either. The analytical engine design he made is turing complete, it even had a programming language for it, and it even could accept custom functions and modular expansions. This was a computer on par with something over a hundred years ahead of its time. Even the earlier design had the ability to install a printer.
The computing revolution by all rights should have started back with the industrial revolution, but thanks to this guy utterly [screwing] up and wasting all this potential, it didn’t and we are about 100-120 years behind schedule. I can say with complete confidence that the course of human history would have been completely, irrevocably altered had Babbage not [screwed] up and wasted his potential on absolutely nothing.
4. This is why you shouldn’t make bombs
Definitely not in all human history, but Ted Kaczynski (a.k.a. The Unabomber) always seemed to me a massive waste of human potential.
A mathematics prodigy who earned his PHD by solving a problem so difficult ‘maybe 10 or 12 people in the country understood or appreciated it’, he gave up his career to go live in a cabin in the woods and make bombs which he’d mail to people.
Currently incarcerated at Supermax prison ADX Florence; what a total waste of potential.
5. Sing it, sister
Not to be a drag, but I think of all the women who were denied an education throughout history in favour of their “proper place” in the home and wonder what might have been accomplished.
6. You mean the guy could’ve been even cooler?
Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest scientific breakthroughs and discoveries could have advanced several scientific fields, including anatomy and physiology, however his notebooks weren’t deciphered and properly studied until hundreds of years after his death and he was forced to keep many of his ideas a secret out of fear of religious persecution.
7. Behind every great man there’s a great woman
Zelda Fitzgerald is mostly known as the wife of F. Scott, which is a shame, since she was a novelist in her own right. Her husband lifted entire sections verbatim from her private diaries to use in his work.
8. Some people are taken from us too soon
Since we don’t have access to all of history, I’m going to say Brandenn Brenner.
Child prodigy, taught himself how to read at 18 months. Started playing piano at age 3. Graduated High school at age 10, after completing 11th and 12th grades in 7 months. Started college at age 11, was studying to become an anesthesiologist.
At 14 he shot himself in the head. There was no suicide note.
9. The family business
Branwell Bronte. He was seen as the prodigy of his family and was expected to make a name for himself as a great artist and intellect. Instead he pissed away his potential with alcohol and drugs and accomplished next to nothing before his early death while three of his sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, went on to publish some of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century (before their early deaths as well).
10. One of the many consequences of war
Henry Moseley was an extremely gifted English physicist who died in the Battle of Gallipoli during WW1. He had made numerous contributions to the field of physics before volunteering for the Royal Engineers in the British Army. He was only 27 when he was shot and killed in combat.
Moseley is an example of a man with great intellect and insight who was taken from the world too soon. I deeply respect his decision to volunteer and serve his country, but one can only imagine the contributions he would have made to the world had he survived.
11. Hear this guy out
Hitler and Osama bin Laden.
Two men with the personal charisma to inspire millions to follow them and their ideas, and they wasted it on hate. Men who literally (proper use of the word) could have brought world peace and instead brought war, devastation, and death.
12. Such a crime
Bo Jackson. If he didn’t get injured he could’ve broke so many records. Possibly in both football & baseball.
13. We ALWAYS need scientists
Antoine Lavoisier, the man basically responsible for the conversion of alchemy into chemistry. An absolute genius who was executed during the French revolution by a political enemy. The judge that sentenced him declared that the revolution didn’t need scientists.
14. Sadly this is the story for many women
Hedy Lamarr. Completely self-taught, no formal training, yet invented spread spectrum technology (the reason we have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phones) with pianist George Antheil using knowledge she gained from her ex-husband. Had she not been born a hundred years ago and subject to ridiculous ideas (still popular in some societies today) about the role of women, there’s so much more that she could have accomplished.
15. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE
Anakin Skywalker. He was supposed to bring balance to the force not leave it in darkness.
16. A frustrating reality of history
Alan Turing, had he not been experimented on for being a homosexual.
17. I seriously had no idea!
Jerry Springer. The guy was on the verge of becoming a leader in the Democratic Party, then he sees a [sex worker], and gets caught since he wrote her a check. THEN, he staged a comeback and became mayor of Cincinnati! But then he lost a bid for Governor, gave up politics, and is now famous for hosting a trashy television talk show.
18. Excuse me, only one talented person per family
Mozart’s sister was apparently another musical supergenius but her father wouldn’t let her perform.
19. Truly a waste of great potential
James A. Garfield came into office as one of the most qualified Presidents in American history having been a hero in the American Civil War and Radical Republican congressman. He grew up very poor and his rise in prominence lends to his charisma and intelligence. In the time he was in office he purged federal corruption and advanced African American civil rights. Less than a year into his term he was assassinated by some corrupt goon, salty about his job applications being rejected by his administration.
20. At least it’s a slightly more creative death
Galois was an absolute genius, developed much of the foundation of abstract algebra, and proved that it is impossible to developed a formula for the roots of a polynomial of degree five or more. When he was 20 he was killed in a duel.
21. The dreaded Kennedy curse
Robert Kennedy. He was on his way to being president, supported minorities and the the poor, had a large amount of influence with his family name, and all of it was lost because of an assassination.
22. This would make a really interesting documentary
Alma Reville was Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and an extremely influential editor and screenwriter in early Hollywood. She actually sat in the director’s chair for a few days during the filming of Psycho and is credited with several important aspects of the film, such as the keening string music in the shower scene: Alfred wanted only silence and sound effects until Alma convinced him otherwise.
23. It’s true though, his reign was cut short
My first thought is of Alexander the Great, because despite all he did, he died at a really young age without accomplishing much more
I don’t think he’s the biggest waste of potential ever, there’s plenty of nameless people throughout history who qualify, I’m sure. I wonder what would have happened if Alexander had time to secure and consolidate his empire.
24. He sorta deserved it though
Chris Brown. He actually has the comedic chops to have gone from hip hop to the movies. And him and Rihanna would have been an even bigger power couple than Beyonce and Jay-Z. Today he’s playing to half-empty arenas.