A few months ago I was invited to give a speech here in Richmond on the subject of “What Powerful Women Do That Others Don’t.”
According to the event organizers, it was a topic many of the attendees would be interested in hearing more about, based on a survey the organization had recently conducted among its members.
OK, I thought, let’s do this.
I agreed to do the speaking engagement but I’ll admit I was a little stumped by the title. I don’t have a clue what “powerful women” do that others don’t because I don’t think of myself as a powerful woman.
First things first: in a physical sense, I have the upper body strength of a grasshopper.
And in a metaphorical sense, the term “powerful” has a negative connotation to it that I don’t identify with…someone climbing the corporate ladder at all costs and collecting titles, trophies and responsibilities along the way. The notion of a powerful woman makes me think of a woman standing victoriously on the top of a cliff holding a shield and a sword.
Not my game, at all.
I’ve often said I’d much rather dance on the plateau of current success than continue to pick and climb my way to the top of a bigger mountain.
It’s such a calmer way to live.
But, I had agreed to do the speaking engagement so I needed to find a way to deliver the topic in a way that felt true and authentic to me.
I was a good challenge because it forced me to really think hard about my own definition of power. After some red wine and quiet contemplation, I decided to turn the notion on its head—and three weeks later I presented my hypothesis to a room of 150 bright-eyed, beautiful women.
True power doesn’t come from the things around you. It comes from the things within you.
I have come to believe that blindly chasing titles and trophies is not a sign of power, it is a sign of weakness. Throughout my career, I spent too much time and too much energy chasing accolades and applause because they represented my shield and my protection. Look, I’m worthy of this title, I won this trophy! Look, The Mom Complex is legit because I was on The Today Show!
That game didn’t really end well for me. So I decided to teach the women in the audience how to play a different game.
My hypothesis came down to this:
If you want to be a powerful woman, you must realize that your power always has and always will come from the inside.
And in order to harness your power from inside yourself, you must get to know yourself. Stop taking orders and doing what everyone tells you to do. Stop living your life for your boss or your brother or your wicked stepmother.
You do you.
The first rule is that if you want to do you…then you need to get to know you. What do you love doing? What do you despise doing? How can you do more of the former and less of the latter? This is your life.
1. Powerful women know what their own “all” is.
Can women have it all? Absolutely. But in order to have it all, you first must determine what your own “all” actually is. Funny how we skip this crucial step and go straight to achieving everyone else’s definition of what having it all means. And then we wake up one day and realize that we hate it. Here’s a refresher on finding your own definition of having it all.
2. Powerful women put themselves on their own calendar.
We make excuses that we don’t have time for ourselves, but the truth is we don’t make time for ourselves. Despite popular belief, you are, indeed, in charge of your own calendar. And you can, in fact, elect to pass on the fourteenth Saturday afternoon kid’s birthday party this month. Here’s a strategy for getting yourself on your own calendar and keeping yourself there. It works every time.
3. Powerful women know how to say no.
Saying no is not as hard as we make it out to be, and like most things, practice makes perfect. If you find it hard to say no to other people, here’s a strategy that will help you do it while laughing along the way.
Know how you like to spend your time and protect that space with every ounce of will power you have.
If you want to know power, you need to know yourself.
While I don’t identify with the external trappings of power, I know dozens of women with very strong, very palpable internal power. And each and every one of those women follow the three simple rules above.
While I couldn’t do a pull-up at the gym if my life depended on it, I do now believe that I’m a powerful woman because I know power comes from within.
That’s my definition of power and I’m sticking to it.