Women, Power, and Getting Unstuck

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Our collective notions of power are in need of a major makeover.

Forget about the greedy self-serving kind, or the influence that comes with wealth and control. Although these are the connotations that are sold to us by a male-dominated society, they are not the type of power that we desperately need or crave.

What we need at this particular moment in time is an inherently different version of power, an ability to connect our gifts and talents with needs and opportunities around us, to add value, to build unity, and to create something inherently better.

This notion of power represents a dynamic interplay between two component forces- a clarity of mission and purpose, and a responsiveness to the ambient world. Honing and knowing what we bring to the table, what we represent in terms of our gifts and potential, and then tracking our focus on opportunities to respond and engage.

When viewed through this lens, it becomes apparent that our power is magnified when we work together. Not in a solely strategic or calculated way, but instead through intimate and personal connections, activating one another’s talents and networks to accelerate and amplify our impacts beyond what we could achieve alone.

This is the type of power- the only type of power- that nurtures our souls, that heals our wounds and fills us back up, undoing the damage that we have collectively incurred. Fear, aggression, victimization- all weapons that have drained our essence leading us toward self-destruction instead of the brilliant future that waits within reach.

But how can we find our power when so many of us remain trapped in darkness? Like a riddle, the answer is hidden in our false assumption, a fundamental error that is exquisitely simple yet profound. To find our power we cannot start with our supervisors, titles or salaries, or any other label or thing that is given to us or put upon us. For looking to others for our power is the surest way to never find or keep it.

The type of power we seek is neither ephemeral nor uncertain. Its permanence and strength derive from a sense of clarity and purpose tied to our own talents, mission, and what we uniquely bring to the world. To find it we must go deep, getting personal, moving well beyond our degrees, titles, and jobs that are externally bequeathed. We must delve into the very core of our experiences, insights and realizations, allowing ourselves to think, feel, and know.

And then we need to make things happen- big things, important things, things that matter. And we need to do it together, supporting one another, and celebrating and reflecting on our impacts, creating more spaces and opportunities to shine and help others shine, creating a world that values and leverages talent toward the greatest good.

Only then will we know what it feels like to be truly powerful, to be no longer afraid or hurt or angry.  Only then can we shine.

Get Out of Your Way… and stop undermining your professional growth

You have so much to offer and you’re ready to share your talents with the world.  You’ve made countless investments- education, soul searching, sweat equity- and you’re committed to making a change. But it doesn’t come.

I have seen too many strong and capable professionals self-destruct as they wait for the right opportunity to emerge. The more they refocus on their growth the more frustrated they become, in turn amplifying the flaws of their current situation.  What was once tolerable if not satisfying quickly becomes toxic and unsustainable as the walls start to close in around them.

By the time they find me they’re often in a state of panic and focus almost entirely on themselves and the urgency of their situations. What I tell them often comes as a surprise.

“You’re getting in your way.  You’re undermining your success.  If you’re serious about professional growth, then you need to remove yourself from the equation.”

Let me explain.

Even though you are ready to grow and have a greater impact, your hyper-focus on yourself is pulling you down rather than up.  When opportunities fail to emerge, our fear responses kick in- self-doubt, panic, anger- we all have our unique variations, but the results are seldom the growth that we crave.

Growth comes from utilizing our gifts and talents toward some impact, something bigger and broader than ourselves.  It’s actually a sense of impact that allows us to grow.

But how can you grow and have an impact when you are dissatisfied with your current position and desperate for change?  It may seem like a puzzle that is impossible to solve.

Yet the solution is quite simple.  Focus on your intended impact instead of yourself.

What is the impact that you are seeking?  Is there a particular population you want to serve?  What contribution are you longing to make, to whom, and in what context?

Once you have clarified your intended impacts then get close to them and the work.  Read articles, volunteer, ask to meet with people and listen to all that they have to offer.  Seek out opportunities to build relationships and get involved- even if it seems unrelated to your job search.

The funny thing is that as you get closer to the people you want to serve or the work that you hope to do, you will begin to find ways to add value, building credibility, relationships, and impacts along the way.  This is when movement will start to happen.

But even then you may find it necessary to remain in your current position, at least until opportunities develop. Chances are, however, your situation will begin to feel less toxic and ideally you may be able to find ways to grow and contribute until the right opportunity develops.

But beware, growth is a funny thing.  As soon as you shift your focus away from your impacts and back to yourself, you will feel the familiar tug of fear starting to pull you back down.

So whatever you do, even when movement starts to happen, remember to stay out of your way!