To Whom Do You Give Your Power?

I love kaleidoscopes because they remind me that in an instant, everything can change. In many of the “kaleidoscope moments” of my life, I have been able to see long-held beliefs or fears in a new and completely different way. So what does this have to do with our personal power, and how we give it away?

Two years ago, I wrote a draft post called “Do they hear you?” The point of the post was to raise the question of what we can do to ensure that our voices are heard in family discussions, board meetings, community gatherings, and anywhere we believe that we have something important to say. I never published the piece because it sounded a bit whiny and I (almost always) try to avoid whining. Here is an excerpt from that draft post…

I invite you to revisit the conference with me. A physician with impressive credentials, a bright and articulate women, was featured on one of the panels. Other panelists included two bright and articulate men, and once the discussion began, the dynamic was painful to observe. During the discussion, one of the male panelists actually moved his chair forward and leaned at an angle so he was facing the moderator and blocking the physician from the moderator’s view. When the panel ended I made a point of speaking to the physician, telling her that I found her contributions noteworthy. “I couldn’t speak over those men,” she said. “Did you notice how they dominated the discussion?”

Fast forward to a recent conversation in which I listened as a friend, let’s call her Anna, told about ending a significant relationship in her life. Anna is strong, talented, creative, and an accomplished professional in her field. But in her relationship, she handed much of her personal power to her partner, and her life at home was not as fulfilling as her life at work. Not so many years ago, this was also true for me.

In thinking about Anna and about several other women I know who are facing major transitions in their lives, the physician panelist came to mind. And in a kaleidoscope moment, I realized that she allowed those male panelists to speak over her. She did not choose to interrupt them when they interrupted her, she did not choose to call out the moderator for not enabling all voices on the panel to be heard. What I had witnessed that day was a brilliant and successful woman give her power away.

Our personal power is ours to use or relinquish, so here are some questions for each of us to consider…

… In what situations am I consistently aware of my personal power?

… In what recent situation/conversation did I hand over my power? To whom did I give it, and why?

… Are there any situations in which I feel I have no power? Do I understand why?

… In what recent situation/conversation did I observe someone else give way her/his personal power? Is there a lesson for me? Is there an observation I am willing to share with the person who handed over her/his personal power?

If you choose to give your power away, commit to asking yourself “Why?”

7 Responses to To Whom Do You Give Your Power?

  1. Katy Fillman March 9, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    Hi Sharon,

    Thank you for your post! I actually see this happen all the time with a few of my friends- successful and strong women in the workplace who sort of take a backseat at home. I know it’s generally none of my business but sometimes it really does bother me. One friend, in particular, it seems would jump off a building if her significant other would ask her to which as you can imagine, is very frustrating to watch. I have seen her make a lot of “bad choices,” which here I define as decisions she certainly would not make on her own. It is especially difficult to watch because her career is essentially to inspire and empower women- helping them to take control of their own lives. I have often pondered about what to do because I do not want to make her angry or force her to distance herself from me and my friendship (if her boyfriend would tell her to). Any advice would be much appreciated!

    • sharon March 10, 2016 at 7:57 am #

      Thanks very much for sharing this experience, Katy. The situation you describe is one many of us face, along with the question of whether we say something to a friend about the way she “shows up” in her relationship. I have found that gently sharing my observations with a friend can bring things into her awareness, but I understand your point about the risk. She is fortunate to have a friend who cares so much, and I would be happy to talk with you about this if you think it would be helpful.

      Sending a very big hug,

      Sharon

  2. Nuria Ramirez March 8, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    Dear Sharon, today we had a PWLI event in Puerto Rico and I shared this post with the team. It came at a perfect time since we were talking about exposure, networking and making ourselves visible in the organization. Thanks for reminding us how important is to have our voice heard and for being an inspiration to me!

    • sharon March 9, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      Thank you very much for all you do to encourage women in their careers and in their lives, Nuria. I am grateful for your inspiration and thank you for taking the time to post this comment. You inspire me, too!

      With all the best wishes, and a hug,

      Sharon

  3. Hilda March 8, 2016 at 3:05 pm #

    Thank you Sharon, you have always been an inspiration to me, specially about our voice as women.
    Warmest regards,
    Hilda

  4. Hilda March 8, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    Dear Sharon, Your post came up at the perfect time. I would like to share that a month ago or so, I was extremely surprised by a court order submitted by my ex-husband. Without my knowledge, he was emancipating my son that has multiple disabilities and the Judge ruled in his favor. Of course, the Judge ruled in that way, because she didn’t know all the facts. The father of my son never gave me the chance to respond. I was never served and the excuse he used was that he couldn’t find me. It didn’t take me a lot to figure out that I had to do something right away in order to protect my son, and that my voice as a woman should be heard, clearly and powerfully. I contacted a lawyer and explained the situation. We worked together to find out, just yesterday, that the Judge revoked the order and asked the other party to present the papers to me, in order for me to respond accordingly.

    This is not only a victory for my son. It goes far beyond being a matter about money, it is a matter of respect and acknowledgement of the human rights.

    I know that this victory is not only for my son and myself as a woman, it is a victory for all women like myself that are in the same predicament. I believe that one day, all this will be just part of my past, but this fight for justice, for my son, will stay within me for a lifetime. I know that his game is not over yet, and I am ready to continue for as many rounds it would take me to get my son’s rights finally being straightened up.

    I want to wish all the women: mothers, sisters, daughters and friends, the most wonderful and Happy International Women’s Day! Yes we can and Yes we will.

    • sharon March 8, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      Hilda, thank you for your courage in sharing these comments. I admire your resolve and love your comment that “my voice as a woman should be heard, clearly and powerfully.” Your son is fortunate to have such a determined mom, sonf we are fortunate to learn from you.

      Thanks so much for inspiring us!

      Sharon

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