I have been observing the world around me quite a bit, especially myself. In taking this long and hard look at the world, I have galvanized this idea about power. This is nothing new, per se, but it is often something that people do not think about. So, I wanted to share my thoughts about this. It is necessary because it is a crucial part of fitness – specifically mental fitness. But, do you really understand power? Honestly, do I understand it? I think I have a grasp of it and I am going to share with you what I have observed and surmised.
First, let’s get a basic definition of power as it applies to what I am discussing. According to Merriam-Webster:
Power – 1b: legal or official authority, capacity, or right
2a: possession of control, authority, or influence over others
We function in a society where definition 1b applies to us. We have police. We have employers. We have authority figures. In leadership theory, we discuss the different types of power – legitimate, referent, coercive, expert, and reward. Thus, power is measured in a very real sense. Many of you may have experienced this in your lives. The person that is so skilled at a job or task that everyone defers to him or her. Or the person that can give you something you want so you defer to him or her. Or the person that simply inherited the title of CEO and you are obligated to listen to. We see this every day in our work lives.
However, the power that I want to discuss is the second. It is the more damaging of the two definitions and the one that most directly impacts us without us even knowing. Let me explain, but I warn you, that this topic may be very uncomfortable and I will use some examples that may bother some of you to bring this point home.
Why Power Matters
Power is critically important to us as individuals. Without it, we feel lost. Now, some of you may say that you have no power. But that is not true. In the legal or official way, you may have no power over someone else (unless you want to use the parenthood thing). But we still have power. So, if you take one of the most extreme things that robs people of power and examine it, you can see what I mean. Sexual assault. It is a violent and degrading act. It is illegal and in no way acceptable in any place, way, shape, or form in our society. But, as individual adults, we engage in sexual activity. So, is it the sexual part that really kills it? I would argue that it is not. Not in the slightest. It is the violation of your ability to choose. Of your right to say no – man or woman. Of your right to walk away from a situation by choice. When you are robbed of that right by force, it is terrifying. You have lost your power. Your power to choose. Your power to walk away. Your power to remain safe. Your power in knowing that you have rights. It is violently stripped from you and you are left holding the pieces. You are left powerless. It is devastating to people. So, as you can see from this very real and visceral example, power matters.
We do not have power over our employers. We cannot just tell them to pay us. We cannot cancel a layoff. We cannot stop the closing of a factory. We have no power there because it is so far beyond our reach. But, in our own sphere of influence, power is something important. I have the power to choose when to do something. When to see someone. When to engage in an activity. For the sake of this discussion about mental wellness, let’s leave out religion. Yes, I understand that one can argue that an action is God’s will, but I do want to want to tell a sexual assault victim that it was God’s will for them to be sexually assaulted. It is a choice that the person makes – to try to take power or to give it away.
Generally, the extremes on this scale are in the realm of taking power. When you violate someone’s trust or violate their privacy or their personal space, you are making a choice to take power for yourself by whatever means necessary. And, more importantly, with a total disregard for the effect on the person you are taking it from. This is why bullies just cannot process the damage they do. Everything comes from this need to have power. The more someone craves it, the more they are willing to do. It can corrupt even the best of people. For some that exist outside the normal spectrum of behavior and move into the sociopathic and psychopathic, you get crime. Terrible and horrible crime. It is all a mechanism to acquire power.
Power and Your Life
Well, shit Rod….what do I do then? Power is not a bad thing. It is just something we have to recognize. We have to understand how it influences us and how it changes us. We have to see the role it plays in all we do and why it is critical to be hyper aware of it. But wait, that makes no effing sense man? Did you smoke some weed or something? WTF are you even talking about!!!
Think back to a time in your life that does not involve work in which you felt powerless. Perhaps you were diagnosed with an illness. Perhaps you had a terrible end to a relationship. Perhaps your significant other cheated on you. Perhaps something personal and private was revealed. Ever know someone who was afraid to tell people they were getting divorced? Ever know someone who was afraid to admit they were gay? Ever know someone who was afraid to profess a love for someone else? What do all these things have in common? Think about this….they all involve a person losing power. Not the official power like an employer, but that personal power that they had in their lives, whether it was real or perceived.
I have been divorced. It was painful and heartbreaking. I was embarrassed and hurt. I tried so hard to be a good husband, but it was not enough. Circumstances just derailed the marriage. But, I did not want to talk about it. I have loved someone from a distance. But, I was afraid to say anything because if I was not loved back, I would make a fool of myself and that person would know how I felt and I would be powerless (admittedly, I made a pretty big fool of myself anyway as I thought I was hiding it and really wasn’t).
On the flipside, there are times when I have given my power away. I have lost love and lamented that fact. I have been sad and moped around. I have let people walk all over me because I care about them only to have them use that against me. I have held on to anger and recrimination. I have been mad for years at people and things. How many of you have been there? Come on now…I see all the Facebook posts, so I know at least a few people out there have been through this. We cannot all be Taylor Swift and write songs about our broken hearts to try to take our power back.
So, we live our lives doing this dance. We dance around this concept of power. We say it is not important, but it really is. We do our best not to lose it, but we give up far more often than we would like. We fight this herculean struggle to maintain some measure of power over ourselves and our lives so that we can function. And, when we lose it, we start to unravel, little by little. Facebook is an interesting place because you can usually see this in your friends’ feeds. You watch people post these oddly personal messages about how someone did them wrong and how the original writer does not care and that it was this other person’s loss. But, if they did not care, why are they posting about it? Hmmm…
Oh yeah…because they care. Because it hurts. Because they feel powerless. So, by posting they think that they are taking their power back. But in reality, they are just giving more of it away. And, they are letting everyone see just what is happening in their lives (and I will discuss this concept in my next posting). For some, it becomes all-consuming. I think we have all seen people like this. Think really hard about this, but do you know anyone like this in your life?
Power can corrupt. This is a real fact. But, that is only if you keep seeking more and more power. We are each captains of our fate. We each have our own internal power. And the thing we need to focus on is identifying what that power is and nurturing it. We have the power to choose. We have the power to think. To love. To give of ourselves. To share. To laugh. To break bread with others. To feed our minds and our souls. To care for our bodies. This is the power you should nurture. This is the power you should not give away. You can say that “he/she took my power to love” or “took my power to laugh” or “took my power to trust” but that is just not true. You gave it away! You let some person have it. That person has control over you. You may think they do not, but trust me when I say that they do. If you are still lamenting what was instead of focusing on what is….then they have taken the power you have given them.
Fitness is not just exercising in the gym folks. Fitness is mental health too. You cannot move forward if your mind is not coming along for the ride. You have to see what you are sacrificing. You have to understand what your power is and whether you have given it away. You have to take it back. You have to stop focusing on who did you wrong and start looking to who will do you right. You have to look to the future with a sense of wonder and excitement, not dread and despair. If your destiny is to be alone, so be it. You can still laugh. You can still break bread. You can still feed your mind. You can still care for your body.
Your power can give your strength. Or you can give it away to someone who is undeserving of it. So, why would you do that?
I can speak from personal experience. There was a time when I was concerned only with power. How do I get power? I felt powerless. No matter what I did or how hard I tried….I kept coming up short. But, one day, I just decided to not care. I started being authentic to myself. No, that does not mean I was a hard ass or mean or overly vocal. I just started smelling the roses. Laughing at the funny things. Appreciating the times that mattered. The less I craved power, the more it fell back into my lap – and not the official kind, but the personal kind. I started to be in more control of myself. As I gained that control, I was able to curb bad habits, create new ones, and change my perspective. I stopped bickering and fighting what I perceived to be ignorance. I just realized that people will do what they do. My power is to live my life in a way that makes me happy. For me, that is the gym. For you, it could be something different. But you have to find what that is. It is your first step to healing yourself.
So give it some thought. Really, take a moment to think about this. Do you own your power? Or are you pretending you do? What keeps you from owning your own power? Who do you give it to? Why? Does he or she deserve it? When you can honestly answer these questions, you have taken your first steps into freeing yourself. The first steps to a healthy mental outlook (although for some, you may need some professional help to get you there). Then, you can start to focus on other things, like the gym, or your work, or your relationships. You have to fix your relationship with yourself first and foremost.
Hopefully this helps you frame power in a way that helps you take yours back. But make no mistake, the more you think that you never give it away, the more you probably do. And just know, we all give parts of it away all the time. We have to unless we are a CEO somewhere, and even then, we would answer to someone. What you have to really try is to keep the important parts for yourself…..laughter, love, kindness, generosity, intelligence, compassion……or you’ll find yourself going down a very dark hole alone.
Good luck to you….and as always…feel free to comment or start a discussion. It never hurts to express yourself.