When I first went to college (one of seven unfinished attempts), I had a really bad epiphany. I realized that I could roam off to the library and study what I want to study instead of attend classes. No one cared. (Well, my parents cared, but they didn’t know). I could do whatever.the.hell.I.wanted. And, of course, that was stupid. But it was one of several tastes of my own personal power. My first was in fifth grade, but that’s another tale. Let’s talk about YOU and your personal power.
What Do I Mean by Personal Power
In this case, let’s say influence, an ability to drive attention, the sense that people give a rat’s ass what you say. Let’s call that power. Because I don’t think money immediately equals power, but boy does it influence people. I don’t think violence equals power, but it sure can mess with power. In this case, let’s just think from the perspective of people who come here to this conversation. Let’s say that power equals your ability to be heard, considered, and occasionally heeded in your world. Let’s say this also equals your ability to BE HELPFUL to others, either by what you do directly, or by how you can muster people to help when something comes up. Okay? Fair?
First, the Spider-Man Clause
If you’re thinking that getting more personal power is a great thing, or that power=success, it does not. And if you’re thinking that power is what will make the difference, we have to think about Spider Man, as written by Stan Lee. “With great power comes great responsibility.” What does that mean? It means that you don’t SEEK power just for that end. You seek to be more useful, more effective, more helpful, and that effort (and your building efforts) gets you to the power. Make sense?
It Starts With You
The single most important thing I learned about myself was that I’m responsible. I’m not always at fault. I’m not always the solution. But everything I can influence in life has to have an inbox and an outbox attached to ME. That’s the first step of being independent. Then, if you’re a Covey freak, you know that what comes next is learning to be interdependent.
Learn that everything you CAN influence starts and ends with you. You can model great behavior and people will be motivated. You can do your part to make a project successful, and that might influence others. But it’s all you. You’re the focus of your efforts.
The best thing to learn on this front: fix every broken thing in your life by using YOU as the hinge. If you’re poor, it’s your responsibility. How can YOU turn that around. If you’re unhealthy, how can you cope differently?
Start Small and Build
Everything I’ve done well in life came from taking pride in smaller victories first. I started by testing things. When I first ever got healthy with my eating and fitness, I started by the smallest steps: no blatant junk food. Then I moved it up a notch: no white grains or sugars. And over time, I felt like a total pro. I’ve since slipped back several notches, but I don’t mind. I know I’m going to tackle that when I’m ready. I’m taking small steps to fix it again.
Find small ways to tackle things that are on your mind. You want a new job and feel stuck? Read great books. You want to ask out that girl you see every day on the bus? Practice talking to strangers who AREN’T that girl, and see if you can build your confidence a little. Never count a victory as too small. They always help, and they always build your arsenal.
Five Quick Tips
- Don’t let people’s view of you from your past influence what you CAN do.
- Write out some REALLY great things about yourself on a 3×5 card. Refer to it often.
- Find people who love you, tell them you’re on a path to grow yourself. Ask them for support.
- Though it’s about you, start thinking about who you can help more.
- Learn to accept yourself at the point where you are NOW. This helps everything else go easier.
Put In the Work
If anyone EVER tells you that there are really simple, quick ways to build yourself into something you are currently not, they are manipulating you. EVERYTHING takes time. Everything is a lot of work. Put in the work. But, and this gets crazy…
Learn Not to Work for Work’s Sake
Another thing I’ve learned about power: if we model from older generations, and if we look around us at the jobs that have been around for a while, we’re destined to repeat what’s come before us. Some of this, a great deal of it, comes from focusing on doing the WRONG work. Busy work. KILL (and I mean this with evil vicious craziness in my eyes) all “busy work” from your life. Kill it like bad movies. And use that extra time on putting in all the work it’s going to take you to grow your own personal life.
Find a Personal Advisory Board
I’ve used this strategy a few times in life. I’m kind of doing it now, but not as formally as the last time. Basically, I emailed a bunch of friends (but friends with lots of skills and talents I don’t have), and I asked them to be my personal advisory board. This meant, to me, that I could ask these people about things I planned to do, and seek their advice. I could tell them where I was with my progress and see what they thought.
Don’t lean on these people, but find a few people you can use as a sounding board. Oh, that reminds me.
Learn “I Intend to…”
As you start to learn how to build personal power at work (if this post is well-received, I’ll go deep into talking about how to use some of this with your daily work life), learn how to switch from asking permission to saying, “I intend to do this. Do you see any obvious reasons why I shouldn’t?”
Just pause on that a moment. Do you see it? What a HUGE difference on asking someone else either what you should do, or seeking permission. It IMMEDIATELY shifts some power onto your plate.
And as you’re learning that one, use your advisory board as a way to practice. “I intend to sign up for a 5K race, even though I’m a bit on the fatter side right now.” And then see what they say back. This is a great way to practice your personal power.
Words and External Forces Matter
When I was in high school (and deep into my mid-30s), my music of choice was really hard rock and heavy metal. I added rap in there somewhere, too. I loved it. It really got my adrenalin moving. It felt like when I channeled lots of that music, I had the aggression tuned way up, and I could fire this at various targets.
It turns out that this also influenced my moods. Now, I’m not shifting this into one of those “your kids shouldn’t listen to rap and metal” posts. I grew up with Tipper Gore as an evil force in my life. And I still like some really hard music. But what I learned was that a steady diet of such music really negatively impacted my energy and my mood.
The same is true with which words we use. I work really hard on not using the following words:
There are probably more words, but these just raced out of my head as things I actively monitor AGAINST saying. Why? Because we are far more wired to fulfill our words than we think. It’s that whole “Don’t think of a white rhinoceros.” We HAVE to think of one. We’re wired to do it. Same thing. Try to turn all your “don’t” and “not” phrasings in life around to be the positives. Turn “I’m too lazy” into “I want to be more energetic.” See? See the difference.
Helping Others Helps You
One secret to building personal power is this: the more you are helpful (and SEEN as helpful – we’ll talk about this in another post), the more people will come to call on you for help, will see your value, and will think of you as someone they want to interact with regularly. Being helpful, finding a way to pitch in, is a great way to build your own power, and share at the same time with people who could benefit from your help.
Beware Time Sinks and Say NO Often
Here’s some kryptonite for you, Superman. If you say yes to everything, you won’t have the time and bandwidth to be ready for bigger things. Don’t say no ALL the time, but learn to say no much more often than you’re doing now. Think about your day. Think about all the things you say yes to, often without even thinking much about it. Watch the next show that slips onto the TV? Want to surf a few more hours? Are you IM-ing just to do it? How many projects are you volunteering your time for, and how many can you honestly sustain?
Learn to say no. Learn to find things that drain your time. And cut them. This blog eats up too much of your day? Kill it. Truly. Learn to say no to the things that eat into your life, and you’ll have more time for you, thus more time to be helpful and build power.
Where are you with this? How do you feel about your own power right now? Do you feel that you’re where you want to be? And what didn’t I cover that you can add to the conversation? OR, what do you want me to talk about next with regards to this stuff? The floor is yours.
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