Whereas my father helped me realize all that I could do in life by helping me to set goals and achieve great things, I did not learn “who” I really was until I faced losing my will to live when sent to jail for a drug conviction at the age of twenty. It was my wise cellmate, Vicki, who helped me to see all I could BE. She made me see how smart, strong-willed, creative, funny, generous and caring I was. No matter what I did in life, I couldn’t really lose what was most valuable to me.
I carried my “Personal Power List” with me when I returned to face the world. When I knew who I was, I could truly accomplish anything. “Doing” earns us praise. “Being” brings us joy. Knowing “who I am at my best” in addition to “what I can do” frees the spirit.
Why is it so difficult to declare our greatest strengths and characteristics? Most people are raised to be humble. My coaching clients tell me, “It doesn’t feel right to stand up and tell the world how wonderful I am. Aren’t I boasting?”
Keeping our trains safely hidden leads us to disconnect with ourselves.
Who you are is not what you say when you introduce yourself at a party. Saying, “I’m a lawyer (a Democrat, a mother of four, a single parent, a Catholic, a baby boomer, an animal lover)” identifies a group you claim allegiance to. These are roles you play. Although they dictate certain behavior, you can always change the rules, the titles, and the protocols. Do not mistake these labels for the real you; in fact, the energy spent defending them may only weaken your ability to reach your highest potential. You are not what you do or the groups you belong to. You are the sum of your personal powers–your abilities to create.
To claim your personal powers, you will first need to uncover them. Once you find them and come to know them intimately, you then must practice speaking of them unashamedly with your family, friends, and colleagues. In doing so, you will increase your confidence and ability to realize your dreams.
Identifying Your Powers
One of the simplest ways to uncover your strengths is by conducting a personal power inventory. Added together, the items you arrive at will reveal the power you have to shape your future. Power, in this context, refers to strengths that cannot be taken away. Money, credentials, and possessions do not qualify, for they can disappear in a day. Nor do classic good looks count, since they can succumb to the ravages of aging, injury, or illness. Even your skills–how well you speak, hunt, cook, handle finances, play sports, negotiate, mediate, and teach–can be lost to time or stolen by circumstance.
The power involved in shaping a future is perhaps best defined by Tracy Goss, author of The Last Word on Power, who wrote, “Power to make something impossible happen is a very sophisticated form of power. It is completely different from the forms of power that most people, even successful people, have learned during the course of their lives. It bears no relation to authority. . . . It has nothing to do with competence. . . . And it does not require influence. . . . When you acquire this power, you are free to take the risks and actions necessary to change the world.”
The personal power inventory is a tool that encourages you to itemize three forms of power: knowledge power (KP), relationship power (RP), and inner power (IP). Added together, your knowledge power, your relationship power and your inner power will equal your personal power (PP).
KP + RP + IP = PP
Knowledge Power (KP). This is the easiest form of power to attain. Although education contributes strongly to the KP category, while conducting your inventory remember that wisdom comes through many channels. As Alan Weiss, author ofThe Million Dollar Consultant, writes, “A high IQ score has no bearing on one’s actual applied intelligence or success in life. All it demonstrates is a high test score.” Every day holds the potential for fresh insight and bits of information that may prove helpful in the future. Even painful experiences offer valuable lessons that lead to growth.
Knowledge power also encompasses an experience of your daily surroundings, rich as they are with information. Novels in addition to newspapers broaden your perspective. Creative thinking and innovative risk-taking allow you to see “beyond the box.” Intuition and inventive decision-making hold more weight than the faint memory of a college curriculum. Include on your list of knowledge powers your attentiveness, degree of open-mindedness, and willingness to learn.
Relationship Power (RP). Relationship strengths are important in every sphere of life. Companies dependent on teamwork for results can no longer afford to downplay the significance of listening skills and sensitivity. The need for an energizing and inclusive work environment is not a fad; it’s a bottom-line necessity.
Communities, families and partnerships of all sorts demand enhanced communication skills. Cultures around the world have witnessed major shifts in husband-wife, parent-child, boyfriend-girlfriend, manager-employee and doctor-patient expectations. People entering these relationships once had a preconceived idea of how to act and what to expect. This clarity no longer exists.
With this in mind, include on your list of relationship powers the desire to listen, allowing others to express emotion, taking time to understand, compassion, patience, positive energy, and respect. What else helps you build strong relationships?
Inner Power (IP). This form of power, although the most important of them all, is the most difficult to describe. Religious literature often portrays these strengths as the presence of calm and the ability to love all living creatures. Other inner powers are the capacity to receive love, excitement about being alive, and the drive to fight for personal truths. Love, coupled with the courage and commitment to stand up for one’s beliefs, provides a foundation for other strengths. Generosity, inspiring others, contentment with self, and peace of mind could be on your list. Fun, too, is an inner power, since lightness, mirth, and a frisky nature attract life’s greatest riches.
You might also include traits as enthusiasm, determination, devotion, faith, a sense of humor, playfulness, and the ability to “go with the flow.”
Using Your Personal Power Inventory
Your inventory will consist of three lists–one for KP, one for RP, and one for IP.
1. In each category, list at least five of your strengths. Consider your “bad habits” that have the potential to reap a positive reward. If you act without thinking and make a lot of mistakes, for example, you might be a great risk-taker or big-picture thinker. If you love attention, you might interrupt people but you are the one called on to deliver presentations. Since personal traits have different appearances and effects depending on circumstances, do not be too quick to write off any aspect of yourself.
Note: If you have trouble coming up with five strengths in any category, try to figure out why. Did someone once tell you that it is vain to acknowledge your strengths? As a child, were you cautioned about sounding conceited if you told people what you were good at? Do you realize that a common definition of conceit is, “the excessive appreciation of one’s worth or virtue”? Regardless of what you thought as a child, begin now to excessively appreciate your worth.
2. Ask others for input, and add these strengths to your lists. Other people–friends, your partner, a coworker, your boss, even casual acquaintances–may see inspiring aspects in you that you yourself have overlooked or misinterpreted. For example, one of my clients thinks that “doing nothing” means he is lazy. I see him as willing to take time to rest and reflect.
While gathering input from people you know, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. It may shift your perspective on the spot. Any time someone gives you valuable information about yourself, accept it graciously, with a simple “thank you,” and add it to your list.
3. For the next ten days, keep a log of your productive conversations and positive accomplishments. Next to each entry, identify the personal qualities that contributed to its success. Add these strengths to your lists. Your daily victory log will help you end each day on a positive note, revealing strengths you might not otherwise take credit for having. Review your actions, then give yourself the compliments you deserve.
4. Read your lists aloud each day until you have them memorized. Committing your powers to memory will give you the confidence needed to make good decisions and glide more smoothly through your day. As author George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, being recognized by yourself as the mighty one.”
While reviewing your inventory, remember that there is no ideal combination of powers, since each listing is unique to the individual who compiled it. Remember, too, that what you lack can be developed through practice and meditation. Any time you encounter a quality you would like to add to your inventory, make it your “theme of the month.” During the next four weeks, focus on “being” this new quality. Be a great sense of humor, be compassionate, or be courageous. Write the word on index cards and tape them to your calendar, your bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car.
The following month, choose another quality to add. After a month in which you have focused on a particular trait, your behavior will begin to exhibit the new mental patterns that your subconscious has been creating. You will then have the capacity to be the power you’ve admired in others.
As your personal power inventory grows, assess it on a regular basis-monthly, if possible. This simple review of the powers you have developed is, on its own, likely to increase your self-esteem and joy.
The world needs more role models. Our daughters, especially, need to know strong women. Courageous women taking steps toward leadership require your support, not your envy or criticism. “And as we let our own light shine,” Williamson adds, “we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Rather than stepping out of the limelight, stand tall in the glow with outstretched arms.
As you do, remind yourself that exhibiting personal powers does not convey arrogance. Whereas confidence has you relying on yourself, arrogance compels you to compare yourself with others. Confidence means you do not have to win or be right to feel good about yourself; you know when you have done your best under the circumstances. Further, with confidence, mistakes become simply an indication that there is more to learn.
Arrogance, on the other hand, propagates feelings of superiority that drain the joy from our experience. When you are in the grip of arrogance, challenges pose a threat. Failure breeds anger. Mistakes beget self-punishment. Triumph generates pious self-righteousness or outright indignation.
Claim your personal powers to sit on a foundation of confidence. Identify your powers. Store them in your heart. Then act in good faith. Face uncomfortable situations with the belief that they hold a payoff for you-in terms of learning, if not success. Before long, you will be basking in the moment.