Getting Clear (or not) and Exerting Power (or not)

My first inclination was to name this entry “Failing at Homework,” but I stopped myself because I’ve just read Eugene’s piece about power dynamics and just watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, and they both remind me of how I disempower myself before anybody else can even take a stab at it.

My plan this week was to determine how I wanted to contribute to the project at hand, and not wait for my role to be completely dictated by someone else. As Eugene pointed out to me, the first step was to get clear with myself what I want my role to be, and – sure enough – I never got there. In the meantime, the universe decided to pitch in; a critical person on the project is very ill and unable to continue working on it, and my efforts are more necessary than ever. Not that this defines exactly what I’ll do, which is still fuzzy, but it ensures my participation. I’ve had so much competing work thrown at me recently that I wasn’t even taking that for granted.

So what’s my barrier to deciding what I’d like to do and requesting it? Why do I have such trouble exerting power? It sounds like the beginning of a long therapy session, but no doubt it has to do with gender dynamics, childhood upbringing, fear of failure, and karmic lessons. I’m tempted to start faking it, as Amy Cuddy suggests, but I also fear becoming obnoxious. I guess I associate power with strident, cocky, unlikeable people. Surely there are exceptions, but now I realize that there’s not much I admire about the exertion of power.

Perhaps there’s a quiet, gentle power that would be more my style than what I’m envisioning, and perhaps that’s what I need to explore. The type exerted in Twelve Angry Men is certainly not it!

3 thoughts on “Getting Clear (or not) and Exerting Power (or not)

  1. Avatar photoRenee Fazzari

    Hi Natalie – the family foundation I work for did a very interesting exercise several years ago at our 60th anniversary among the full staff and board. We each got a deck of 26 cards with one value listed on each card and were told to order the values according to our own priorities. Nearly all of the group put power at the bottom. This is quite interesting when you think about the privilege inherent in the wealthy family members and the well-paid staff managing their funds.

    It prompted a very provocative ongoing conversation about our relationship to power. We all have examples of wealthy people or those who manage wealth who abuse their power, and so we shy away from it. But we’re not doing anyone any favors by leaving our own power on the table. We have tons of power and we can use it for good if we own it.

    A question for you – what did you think of the power that the one non-angry man (in 12 Angry Men) exhibited on the group?

    1. Avatar photoNatalie Post author

      Interesting, Renee, and a good point about the non-angry man. A gentle, quiet power can work for me. I’ve found in some work settings, though, that sometimes the gentle, quiet person never gets a word in edgewise. I was actually chastised at one of my jobs for failing to aggressively jump in the fray and talk over people to get my point across. As a result, I still have a bad habit of interrupting people more frequently than I’d like. There are settings, though, where people are more respectful and are more willing to listen, so it’s worthwhile to hold on to good situations when you find them. It sounds like you’ve been with this foundation for a while — perhaps they’re one of the good ones!

    2. Avatar photoEugene Eric Kim

      Wow, fascinating story, Renee. Now I’m curious to know what other foundations’ lists would look like.

      I also love your question. Natalie, curious to hear your answer.

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