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The First Step to Being Powerful, by Nilofer Merchant


Stashed in: Respect, Be yourself., Fear, Awesome, Power!, HBR, @amyjccuddy, @justinemusk, @brenebrown, Brain

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It is hard to silence that inner critic — especially if outer critics are also chiming in. 

If you can’t silence it, make peace with it. I have a standing appointment with fear, where I listen to it and make a plan based on what I learn. In return, fear has learned manners and keeps quiet until our next appointment, thus allowing me to get to work.

You can’t ask other people to make a “weak I” go away. Only you can live your life. And only you have lived the life you’ve lived thus far, only you can have the dreams you choose to have. By asking someone else to validate that, you are not only giving away your power, you asking someone to validate something that they can’t possibly understand. Each of us is standing in a spot only we are standing in; it’s a function of our history and our vision. Until you own this spot – your onlyness — in the world, you will never stand in your power. Without it, you will never fully own your “strong I”. Until you celebrate who you already are, you will always be hustling your way to worthiness, as notable researcher and storyteller Brene Brown would say. She defines hustling as the need to please, perfect, pretend, and to prove your worth. All this is an effort to show the world what you think it wants, not what’s really happening because you don’t believe that your experience, your reality is already good enough.

Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard knew of research that powerful people have powerful body language—taking up more physical space–and thus appearing more confident to others. She proved that the reverse is also true: just doing powerful poses can actually create the feeling of power. Similarly, I’d argue that by doing the work you’re called to do and by owning your difference, you own your narrative power – and owning it is what lets you create the future.

You do not need to “be seen” before pursuing your ideas. Enjoy yourself. Work. Create. Add value. Do what you can, consider everything an experiment to be held lightly, and then see what it leads to. Trust that in the doing, you are learning and growing, and being powerful. While it is quite possible you will be left “unseen” by some of society, at least you’ll see yourself. In this way, power stretches to become dignity.

Own your story, and you own your life, Justine Musk recently wrote. Talk to yourself as a friend, not an enemy. And remember, you cannot change anything unless you first see your own self as powerful enough to act. The way we talk of ourselves and to ourselves grants power – narrative power — to what happens next.

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