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Bringing Authentic Power to Work

Sometimes we all get a little frustrated when we feel like our “work” just isn’t working for us. Over the last few months I have had countless discussions with co-workers, community group members, as well as friends and family about the ups and downs in their professional lives. It makes sense. Work is the place we spend a considerable amount of our waking hours and it is littered with land mines — from toxic bosses, to unfulfilling work assignments, uneven work/life balance, difficulty “leaning-in” as women in the workforce, and jobs that simply leave us feeling like the odd “man” out because we seem like the only one who doesn’t want to be there. Add to the mix that most of us are working within organizational cultures that are slow to change, and many of us are left feeling helpless about what to do when it comes to work.

Now if you are working your dream job for your dream organization (or for yourself) this is not a problem to which you can relate. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, there are lots of people out there suffering through their 9-to-5’s; sometimes not because they are bad jobs or even bad companies but they are simply a bad fit. What I have come to realize over the years is while our jobs may not a perfect fit, they do not have to be a limiting factor in our lives.

At the end of the workday, each of us has the power to ask ourselves a question:

  • Is this “work” working for me?

  • Am I connecting to people who can help me grow professionally?

  • Is it helping me develop useful skills?

  • Am I engaged in issues about which I am passionate?

Even in imperfect circumstances we usually have some control over the people and the efforts to which we give our time, and I would suggest focusing that energy toward getting closer to your true purpose.

The problem is the world defines “success” as the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like. It can also be the accomplishment of one’s goals. Too often, however, we get caught up in our ambition and become focused on getting to the next promotion or the next pay increase. Many of us are living comfortably while secretly feel discomfort and dissatisfaction every time we go to work. It can be hard to consider starting over in another field when we could lose our perceived status and real financial stability. But is it really worth spending time feeling tired, stressed, and disempowered just to hold on to a position?

The difference between wielding worldly power and authentic power is that worldly power is all about where you sit in relation to your position — the corner office, the boardroom, the White House. Authentic power, on the other hand, comes from position of your inner self, your interal fortitude. Maybe some of us need to stop trying to change our colleagues and bosses and have the courage to take a hard look at how we might need to change in order to grow and prepare for the next step in life's journey.

The great thing about authentic power- and the life of the late Nelson Mandela attests to this- is it can be exerted any time or place. Mandela became a father of modern South Africa but started out as a freedom fighter against an apartheid regime that incarcerated him for over 27 years. This is just one example of how we can operate in our porpose anywhere if we are open to grow through the situations life gives us. We must remember sometimes we face less than ideal situations to ensure we seek to create a better future.

The real goal of our work and our lives is not power or comfort as an end to themselves. Building our lives around these temporal, externally defined measures of success often leads to disappointment. And they do not guarentee you a legacy in the long run. The real goal should be to live this life pushing toward a grander vision and knowing our purpose. Meaning, not fame or fortune, is our greatest reward.

Although this is often not the popular path or even the easiest, it is one that is worth the work to get there.

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