Deconstructing Self – Power

This is the second part of a three-part series on Self. The three parts of Self are identity, power, and emotion. Today, we explore power. 

What is power?

“Do you feel in charge?”

“I’ve paid you a small fortune.”

And this gives you, power, over me?”

Bane said this in The Dark Knight Rises to slimy money man, John Daggett. Power is the differentiation among physical, emotional, intellectual, and financial power. These four elements of power are all at play when deconstructing Self. What kind of power matters to you?

Very few of us are physically, emotionally, intellectually, and financially powerful. Further, even if we are, it doesn’t matter if others don’t perceive us that way. So, for analyzing power, we must always keep in mind real power (e.g., power = work / time) and perceived power (e.g., how others view us). 

Physical power

While less important in 2017 than it was in 1817, physical power still matters. Physical power is both realized and perceived equally most of the time. Physical power manifests itself in size, strength, speed, and agility. Imagine LeBron James. He is a 6’9, 260lb muscle-bound man, who is faster, stronger, and more agile than 99% of people on Earth. From a physical perspective, LeBron James might be the pinnacle of power. 

But, physical power has limits. Because we have advanced weapons and fighting techniques that limit the impact of physical power, how physically powerful we are matters less than it did in the past. With that being said, there is automatic respect that comes with physical power. In general, the larger, stronger, faster, and quicker someone is, the more afraid of that person we are.

So, when it comes to Self, our physical power not only impacts others’ perceptions of us, but it also impacts how we view ourselves. Knowing that our physical power commands attention, we can use that attention to command respect or fear. When it comes to Self, the more physically powerful we are, the more we demand respect and the more we feel confident about ourselves. It’s no wonder those who are often the most physically powerful are the least humble about their prowess.

How do you want others to see you? If you think that physical power impacts your version of you, then by all means, become more powerful. In the same breath, if you don’t find pleasure in pursuing physical strength, speed, and size, then understand that you are both limiting yourself and impacting how others perceive you.

Emotional power

Next time, I will devote an entire article to emotion, so I am going to leave this section blank for now. As a brief preview, think about how emotionally empowering it is to walk into a room full of crowded people, speak up, and have people stop what they are doing to listen to you… 

Intellectual power

Intellectual power refers not to an intellectual deficiency or disability; it refers to someone’s use of knowledge. When someone with a PhD from Harvard is speaking, we give deference because of the presumed intelligence that person has from the intellectual status of earning a doctorate from a prestigious institution. 

Similarly, we offer less deference to high school dropouts that work in the service industry, even though we have no foundation for our belief that person is any less intellectually competent than the Harvard PhD. Often, our intellectual power derives from our formal education, and this is a societal norm as much as anything else. 

We also provide power to those who show intellectual abilities in a subject area, regardless of their credentials. For example, a keynote speaker at a conference or a TED talk speaker, whom we may know nothing about, commands power from the ability and deliverance of the talk. This intellectual power is often given, not earned. 

When we think about Self, intellectual power can be intoxicating. Of course, we want to have the most intellectual capacity that we can because “sounding smart” gets us places. So, when we dig into our own intellectual power, it is worth considering whether we would rather portray intellect without earning it through education or whether it’s more important to have that education, knowing that we can showcase our intellect when we choose. 

While I’m a huge advocate of continuous improvement and lifelong education, it’s important to remember that intellectual power can only take us so far. Just because we hold advanced degrees or come off as an expert does not mean much unless we know what to do with those degrees and ability.

Financial power

Financial power matters most out of these four types of power. Money can buy us happiness and influence much in our lives. Financial power dictates much of how we live as well. The more money we have, the easier it is to feel comfortable. If we can afford to buy a house, we are one step closer to living the perceived American Dream. On the other end of the spectrum, when we have enough money to put food on the table at dinner, we avoid the perils associated with poverty

Unfortunately, once we earn more money, often our goal is to…earn more money because we just spent the money that we earned. The majority (56%) of Americans spend at or above their income levels. This is because the first thing that we do when we get some sort of financial windfall is spend. That’s why many lottery winners and professional athletes go from low- or middle-income, to high-income, to bankrupt in a very short period. 

Everyone sees what financial power brings. Wealthy people get their own television shows, private concierge services, and often have to pay less or nothing for the same things that lower- and middle-income people spend a lot for (e.g., taxes)! Why wouldn’t we strive for that kind of power? 

Becoming powerful

Just like identity, we control our power. You can go to the gym and become a physically powerful human being. Legitimately anyone can do this if they want to. Similarly, basically anyone can go to school and earn a degree or go online and gain an education through books, courses, coaches, or other training materials. It takes time to become a master of anything, and if we put in the time, our intellectual power will grow. 

While financial power is more difficult to make, there are plenty of ways to earn financial power. Simply find the right mentors, organizations, courses, and books. There is enough information in the world, which is free, to help anyone’s financial prowess. Again, it just takes the effort. 

Unlike changing our identities, we can’t just change our power status by looking in the mirror and reframing our thoughts. Becoming more powerful, having a higher power Self, takes effort. A lot of effort. I recently heard a quote, where a successful businessperson said,

“Yes, you can absolutely become rich, famous, and successful; just work 80 hours per week for 25 years without a vacation.”

While this might be an exaggeration, the underlying premise is true. If you want to become more powerful as part of your Self, you must put in the effort. 

I’ll be right here with you if you want to try.