What can we do to change that?
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Nature doesn’t look at a rose and suggest it should “tone down it’s bright colors.” It’s power is in its beauty – the fragrance and the colors that attract pollinators which it needs to survive and produce seed. The thorns protect. A rose is perfect just as it is because it is doing what it is supposed to do within the system. That is what Power is – doing what you are made to do. I didn’t always think this way.
I used to think power was bad; it was used to dominate, control. It was what leadership was about – “Be a man! Lead like a man! Lead like General Patton!” This was the kind of power that Starhawk referred to as “power-over.” It was about rules, mastery and control. I did not want that kind of power. So I unwittingly gave up the power that I did have. My leadership attempts were self-sabotaged by my limiting beliefs. My goals for myself were small; my beliefs in my abilities and self-agency were stunted. What I really wanted for myself in terms of work, romance, family seemed unobtainable, so I decided being fabulous and powerful were stuck-up and ego-maniacal pursuits. I wasn’t like that!
Except, I kind of was. Secretly I wanted to be fabulous and powerful, as we all should. Let me explain. I realized that my perceived lack of power was holding me back, so I have been on a mission to understand power better, its definitions, its uses, and how I want to relate to it.
I read Starhawk and found that her theories and definitions of power resonated with me. She describes three types of power. In addition to “power-over,” she also describes “power-from within” which is about connection and creation and systems awareness, and “power-with” which is about emergency power and holistic awareness.
My mind was pinging with possibilities! This is the kind of power that I can relate to. I can be me, I can connect to others, I don’t have to control the outcome. I can believe in the process, speak my truth, show up authentically. This, then, for me is power that I want to use – and it is the power given to each of us – the power to show up authentically and speak our truth in community.
Of course, showing up authentically and learning to speak my truth in front of others – others who might disagree with me – was terrifying. So I kept studying.
Barry Oshry’s Power model and his Power Lab were a more business traditional model for studying about power. He looks at power within systems (“power-from-within”). I like this model because identifying an individual and glorifying them or blaming them for certain results ignores all of the support and the system that contributed. In his model, there are Tops, Middles, Bottoms and Customers – and there are predictable patterns in dysfunctional and functional systems.
While I find this theory fascinating and accurate, I find that its real-world application isn’t inclusive enough for me. It is targeted as a “proven system” for “executives” and “leaders.” Well, okay, but I’m not a corporate executive, and my leadership does not come from title or position or pay, and I hate terms like “proven system” that “drive results” and create a “return on investment.” So I find the training inherently unbalanced and tilted toward those who exercise “power-with”, even though I frequently use the theory to examine patterns of interactions in groups.
I kept seeking. What I want is to be me. My most beautiful, awkward, imperfect Authentic Self. I have visions of how to make the world a better place, but felt that driving results for a guaranteed return on investments left me feeling dead on the inside. I don’t like the system our world order operates in now – why would I want to exercise power or leadership according to a proven system that will get me more of the same? I don’t.
I read Peter Block and attended a workshop he delivered. He talked about the feminine uses of power. And said that if wisdom resides somewhere, it resides in community. Power-with!
I came to realize that I am my Authentic Self when I share my gifts openly, with confidence, and regardless of the results. That is leadership. And what I most want is to connect to other people and their Authentic Selves. That is community. The more that you stand in your true power, that is, being authentically you, the easier it is for me to stand in mine, and so on.
Being authentically me does not require me to be more or less than I am. It requires no background work, no training of my strengths. It requires me to be fully present, aware of my gifts, neither boastful nor falsely modest. Gifts are who I am, what I offer the world simply by being me. I have unique gifts to offer the world because I was born. The Universe, God, Creator, DNA, whatever you call it, gave them to me. Just as you received yours because you were born. When I recognize my gifts, come to understand them and learn how to give them to the community, I am being my most fabulous, powerful self!
Thus, I finally got it – my own definition of power: Power is being in harmony with our natural gifts.
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