What's the best idiom/phrase/word to describe someone who has a great potential to do something while he/she is not aware of that potential. For this reason, (s)he underestimate her/his capabilities and asks others to do so for her/him.


There is a huge difference between my question and What would I call my friend's personality? In my case, they are not aware of their abilities but in the mentioned question, they lie about themselves. So, this is another question.

  • possible duplicate of What would I call my friend's personality?
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:19
  • @HotLicks I'd say not, since that question is tackling the issue of deliberate false modesty whereas OP is talking about a situation where the false modesty is unintentional. Aug 18, 2015 at 13:42
  • 3
    In any event, imposter syndrome might apply.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:51
  • Unreavealed talents may apply when the potential is not (yet) seen by others. But, it doesn't express the idea of being unconscious of his own talent.
    – Graffito
    Aug 18, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    Could you not say "what" this potential or talent is? Are we speaking about hidden talents? A student with low self-esteem? A shy unassertive worker? It would also be best to include the title of the "mentioned" question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:12

8 Answers 8


A person who does not utilize the talent/brains/charm they are perceived to have (by others) - whether due to insecurity, or other neuroses - is usually referred to as an "underachiever".

  • 3
    The phrase "underachiever" is about whether someone achieves something and not about whether they have awareness of their talents. It especially doesn't include a suggestion of potential in "underachiever".
    – Christian
    Aug 18, 2015 at 17:37
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    @Christian, agreed. "Underachiever" also often comes with a connotation of laziness, which implies a lack of potential.
    – acobster
    Aug 18, 2015 at 18:11
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    @Christian - Gotta disagree... "Underachiever" is usually used specifically to describe wasted potential. (Otherwise you'd simply have a "non"-achiever.)
    – Oldbag
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:26
  • @acobster - There may indeed be a connotation of laziness, but that drives the same point home. (I took enough letters home from my school teachers to know that "laziness" and "lack of potential" are definitely NOT the same thing.)
    – Oldbag
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:29
  • Fair enough, @Oldbag, I see your point.
    – acobster
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:35

"Hidden" or "untapped" potential might fit the bill.

  • 4
    "Latent" is a similar option. Aug 18, 2015 at 17:42
  • Or hidden talent, a talent that has yet to be discovered in the individual.
    – Arluin
    Aug 18, 2015 at 19:57

I'd call them unrealized, in saying they have "unrealized potential." Closely related is undeveloped, as in "undeveloped talents."

Perhaps with the most specificity there is unactualized, though it steps outside generic terms and into psychology.

There is also nascent and related terms if you wish to be optimistic.

unrealized - not made real or actual; not resulting in accomplishment, as a task or aim

unactualizied - To [have not] realize[d] one's full potential.

nascent - just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential


The lack of self-awareness of future potential invokes for me the story of the ugly duckling.

There is a sense in which I'm not sure the idiom forms a great analogy in the human realm - the process of transformation into a swan was automatic rather than conscious, whereas untapped personal potential can usually only be achieved with effort and dedication. But for the legions of neurotically self-conscious teenagers who will - though they could not conceive of it - turn into fine adults and be a credit to their community, the "ugly duckling" concept is resonant. Often it refers to potential in the aesthetic sphere, but it is not limited to that.


The example sentence there is "The most successful company was last year's ugly duckling." This is an example of a non-aesthetic use, and achievement of previously hidden potential, which would serve for a person as well as a corporation.


Largely because of Disney's influence, such a person might be called a diamond in the rough, indicating a hidden value. This also implies that the value could be passed over by an unfocused observer, but the person so-referenced is not likely aware of the value either.

  • You are aware that this phrase is much older than Disney's use of it?
    – corsiKa
    Aug 18, 2015 at 21:01
  • I have no doubt of that. But I also have no doubt that most people who know the phrase now know it because they heard Jafar say it.
    – Magus
    Aug 18, 2015 at 22:15

Lots of great words offered here! Here's another possibility:

Perhaps the person has an inferiority complex.

A lack of self-worth, a doubt and uncertainty, and feelings of not measuring up to standards (Wikipedia)


How about, "humble" or "self deprecating" or "modest"?

  • citations and definitions please
    – Yeshe
    Aug 19, 2015 at 2:18
  • @Colin, thanks for the answer, however as I noted in OP, this may not be the appropriate answer for my case.
    – Eilia
    Aug 19, 2015 at 5:48

X factor

From Oxford Dictionaries Online:

noteworthy special talent or quality

Example sentences from that website:

‘Mark said: " They do have to have the X factor, which is really hard to define.’

‘Hugh Grant lacks the X factor in a disappointing satire.’

‘It's exactly the sort of situation where Madsen's energetic X factor might have provided a crucial boost.’

The premise of the reality television show 'The X Factor' is that previously unknown talents can be unearthed by the judges, who are deemed able to discern who possesses the X Factor and who does not.

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