There is such a thing as personal power, but most people haven’t encountered it even remotely. That’s because their notion of personal power aims at the wrong goal. They define a powerful person as someone with money and status who can exert his will over others. Such a person is imagined to be strong, smart, lucky, and more than a little ruthless. Examples crop up from Washington to Wall Street, any area of life where competition is fierce and the spoils go to the victors.
But the real secret to personal power lies elsewhere. The difference is that one kind of power, the kind I’ve just sketched, comes from what you do while the other comes from who you are. Before writing this post, I reviewed in my mind the qualities I’ve observed in the most powerful people I’ve met over the past thirty years, and it was astonishing how many qualities come directly from being rather than doing. Here’s my list:
- A powerful person has built a life filled with meaning and purpose.
- They are able to realize their intentions.
- They direct their attention with efficiency and focus.
- Their choices benefit themselves and the people around them.
- From inside themselves they tap into creativity, imagination, and insight.
- They can feel out a situation through reliable intuition.
- Their accomplishments haven’t led to self-importance — humility and gratitude are present in their makeup.
- At the end of the day life is a continuous source of joy and equanimity for them, not a battlefield of struggle and frustration.
Not every powerful person exhibits these qualities every day; room must be left for personal growth and a host of personal differences. Yet no matter how unique each of us is, we share a common source in the consciousness from which all personal power arises. Once you have made contact with this source, the most valuable things in life – love, compassion, strength, a sense of truth – can be accessed naturally. There is no need to rely on your ego to win them for you (or to do without once your ego fails at the quest).
The kind of power I’m describing isn’t the fruit of worldly success – it lies at the source of who you are. Therefore, success is guaranteed and cannot be taken away. This message has been delivered for centuries by the world’s wisdom traditions, yet it is left to each of us, at any age, to realize the truth by testing it for ourselves. A journey is implied, a lifelong project to know who you really are.
It’s a problem that modern society has such conflicted notions about the inner world, where a muddle has been created by the conflicts between science and religion, contending approaches to psychology, the demands of daily life, and the buried aspirations we never achieve because we spend so much time and effort on distractions. Even so, these obstacles exist in the realm of doing. The realm of being isn’t damaged by them; its door is always open.
How do you recognize if you are accessing your own being? Personally, when I look at myself, I ask if I’m living up to the following traits:
- Am I immune to criticism but responsive to feedback?
- Do I feel that I’m beneath no one and superior to no one?
- Do I feel fearless?
- Am I standing up for my own truth?
- Do I find myself in the company of those who seek the truth (and act cautious around those who claim to have found it)?
- Do I exist in mutual respect with everyone I encounter?
- Do I feel the kind of courtesy that comes from the heart?
- Do I know when to defer and when to assert myself?