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From Powerlessness to True Personal Power

by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

Carla can’t leave her work as a university professor, work that she now finds unfulfilling, because she’ll lose her tenure. Her thought: “I have no control over the system.”

Manuel’s co-worker doesn’t take feedback well, so Manuel works at home each night “cleaning up” the co-worker’s projects so their unit will look better. His thought: “I can’t control how other people are.”

Henrietta wants to be promoted to senior management but has been told she doesn’t have what it takes to make the leap. Her thought: “I can’t control what others think of me.”

It’s true. It’s not possible to control a system, another person’s behavior or others’ impressions. But that doesn’t mean either that Carla, Manuel or Henrietta have no control over their situation. What they—and we—can control ultimately has more power to affect a situation than any control we might try to exert over others.

Consider the power available to us when we pay attention to these areas—things we can actually do something about:

Our words. Spoken or written, the words we choose impact our lives and the lives of others. Manuel, for example, could learn ways to approach his colleague that stand a better chance of being heard. (Consider reading Non- Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg or Taking the War Out of Our Words by Sharon Ellison.) His cover-up does the co-worker no good, and eats away Manuel’s alone time with his wife.

Our beliefs. We can always change our beliefs. Carla, for example, might want to examine her belief that the only way she can feel financially secure is to have tenure. Or her belief that doing something else that is fulfilling and stimulating won’t provide well enough for her.

Our actions. We alone are responsible for what we do. Henrietta, for example, can find out exactly what leadership and/or managerial qualities her superiors think she lacks. She can take courses to learn skills. She can work with a coach to bring out leadership qualities or to look at other work possibilities.

Our values. What’s important to us is our call. No one else can tell us what to value. Where we truly tap into power is when we align our values with our actions. Our work. Although many of us complain of being stuck in a job or profession, we DO get to choose what our work in the world is. If yours is chronically unfulfilling, begin exploring your options.

Our friends. Those we associate with say a lot about what we think about ourselves. We can choose to have friends who support us and who mirror our best qualities or who bring us down.

Our time. Though it sometimes feels as though we have no choice, we do choose every day how we will use the 24 hours that a day gives us. Our basic health. While we cannot control our genetic make-up, we can choose to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy food, get routine check-ups.

The bottom line is: we are more powerful than we might believe. If you’d like to explore how to rediscover the personal power that is yours, don’t hesitate to call.

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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

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