I spent years playing the victim - the victim of bad luck, unfortunate circumstances, and unethical people.
I was a single mom at 19. On many occasions, I needed assistance to buy groceries. I was once in a relationship with a man who physically and emotionally abused me. During some of the most difficult times in my life, I believed that I had no control over what was happening to me, which left me feeling powerless and stuck.
It took a whole lot of stumbling for me to finally admit that we play a role in virtually EVERY situation we find ourselves in.
Systemic and individual hardships are real - no argument there. But acknowledging those difficulties don't mean that our only option is to throw in the towel and do absolutely nothing. In every area of life, we are always in control of our actions.
*That* is where true personal power lies.
It's recognizing that you always have a say in your experience. In every scenario, you have agency. You are NEVER powerless.
Clearly, we don't have total control over every detail of our lives, but we do control the story that we tell ourselves about what's happening, and what's possible next. We control how we speak and relate to the people around us. We control our decisions.
That's what changed my life. That's what took me from poverty and domestic violence to owning a multi-million dollar business with 5 locations, nearly 70 employees, and thousands of loyal clients. As I fought for my success, my tough situations didn't immediately vanish, and sometimes, they didn't necessarily get any easier. But I started to see them as manageable, and I saw myself as capable of facing hard things.
Personal power is saying, "I can see how I contributed to this issue, or at least, how I can now choose to relate to it in a more productive way and choose what happens next." Personal power is knowing that you are just as worthy as anyone else, and asking for what you need or want, clearly and confidently. Personal power is total honesty and the willingness to look objectively at the facts of a situation. So what does this look like, in a step-by-sense, practical sense? My answer is to start with six clarifying questions.
I call them The Power Six.
Ask yourself these questions whenever you're facing a tough situation, where it feels like you have no power to change anything. The Power Six will cut through the "I can't handle this" spiral, and bring in an empowered perspective that moves you forward with fresh clarity and confidence.
Question #1: What is my complaint?
Give yourself full permission to rant as much as you want at this point. This is your space to vent, no questions asked. Spill it all out!
For example: I told my co-worker my business idea and now she's doing it! I can't believe she stole my idea! What kind of evil human being does that?!? Now I have to come up with a brand new business plan. FML. :(
Question #2: What actually happened?
With Q2, we're shifting into reframing and retelling the story, so that we don't get stuck in pettiness and pure negativity. Be totally objective here. Take out your judgement of who did what. Just state the straight facts.
For example: My co-worker and I had a conversation about a business idea that excited us both. She took immediate action and recently launched her new business.
Question #3: What is the story I'm telling myself about this situation?
What are the differences between your complaint and the objective reality of the situation? At this point, you'll start to see the underlying story you're telling yourself about this situation. Where are you telling yourself that you're powerless, or that your experience HAS to be determined by other people's choices? Where are you giving others control of the outcome?
For example: My story is that my entrepreneurial future has been 'stolen', that only one kind of business like that can exist in the entire world, and that I can't have a business that's similar to my co-worker's.
Also, I've got a story going on here that people are manipulative tricksters, so I can't trust them.
Question #4: What's the payoff for continuing to tell myself this story?
We make choices because - on some level - those choices have a payoff. Even if the payoff is small and short lived, it's there.
Brave honesty here: How do you benefit from this story you're telling yourself? Does it give you an easy way out? Does it allow you to think good things about yourself and negative things about other people? Is it giving you permission to avoid or deny an uncomfortable truth? It's natural to have trouble with this one. Stick with it. Keep probing. "What benefit or comfort could this story be giving me?" There's always something. We choose our stories because they reinforce something that comforts us in some way. Being able to articulate that is a powerful move.
For example: Even though I'm not happy in this job, it's comfortable and familiar, so telling myself that my business idea is 'gone' gives me permission to stay in this comfort zone job, which feels safe.
And, my story about not being able to count on people reinforces my belief that it's safer to stay walled up and never open up to anyone, which cuts me off from the connection I'm craving.
Question #5: What new story do I want to tell?
With the deeper self-awareness from Q4, we're now in a stronger and better informed position to tell a new story. This new story will not ignore the realities you're facing, but it will nudge you to take radical responsibility for your actions and words from here on out.
For example: My desire to start my own business is my responsibility to act upon. (Kudos to my co-worker for being driven and action-oriented). And there are millions of people in this big world, so there's room for more than one business doing the same thing. If that idea is truly what I want to do, nothing's stopping me.
I may not feel especially trustful of this particular co-worker, but it's not reasonable for me to assume that her behavior is representative of every person on the planet. I want to give people a clean slate, instead of pre-judging them based on what this one person did.
Question #6: What can I take responsibility for now?
Look at the contrast between Q1 and Q6. You've come a long way! Instead of complaining and fault-finding, you're looking forward and taking responsibility for what matters to you. That's POWER! So now, it's time to get precise on exactly what you're going to do. If you take full responsibility for living out the new story you detailed above, what would you do next? What action supports that new story?
For example: I'm going to take some time to reflect on what I want to say to my co-worker (if anything). More importantly, I'm going to block off 2 hours on Saturday afternoon to create a master task list of all the things I need to do to get this business off the ground. And I'm going to reach out to that woman in my yoga class who coaches entrepreneurs - maybe I'll hire her, or maybe she can just point me toward some helpful resources. Ya, let's do this!
- - -
In a perfect world, everything we wanted would flow into our lives with ease and convenience. People would show up to enthusiastically support us. And everything would shut down for a universal dance party every afternoon at 2pm. But we don't live in that world, do we? Difficulties are an inherent part of life, but instead of viewing them as permanent blockades, we can treat those challenges as opportunities for growth, deeper self-awareness and more aligned choices.
Asking ourselves these questions and taking responsibility for our actions isn't easy, but it's worth it. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to do this, but push yourself to not give up. Keep trying.
It's totally worth it. YOU are totally worth it. Promise.