Power: Real, Perceived and Feeling Powerless

Feeling powerless is a terrible, out-of-control feeling. It provokes anger, frustration, and hopelessness.

Everywhere we look today, world events are happening that can trigger feelings of powerlessness – a global pandemic, economic collapse, raging wildfires, political divides, civil unrest, growing social division. Leaders of our government even feel powerless! Resisting the feeling of powerlessness, and the associated feelings of hopelessness and despair, are things I’ve considered for years. The one ‘dislike’ I quoted in my high school yearbook was ‘feeling powerless.’ Then, feeling powerless meant something different to me than what it does today, but the feeling is the same. It just feels…disempowering – a terrible feeling.

This terrible feeling prompted me to reflect further on power – and I’ve concluded the concept of power is illusory. While the concept of power is a social construct, who holds power and how power is manifested has a very real impact on our lives.

One way we perceive “power” is power over others, which is often related to titles (yet another social construct). The power in our lives that is most distressing are the forces that are not within our control. So, does true power, that is power within our complete control, exist? Yes.

Our power is the power over self. We make decisions and act every day in a way that expresses our personal agency – that is, our “power” to act on our behalf. How we make decisions and why we act in a certain way (the expression of our agency) result from our values interacting with external factors.

Here’s the good news: we control what we value, and our decisions and actions. The bad news is we can’t control external factors.

This reality may seem discouraging – and it should– which brings me back to an encouraging truth – we can control, and therefore have power over, our values, our decisions, and our actions. My goal is to focus on what I can control – to make decisions and act in ways that are consistent with my values in expressing my agency. That’s the antidote to feeling powerless.

Where do I start? The most immediate way to express our power is by voting and advocacy. Get to the polls today. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers, and more than 91.6 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election. But don’t stop there; advocating on important issues is one way we can live in alignment with our values, something we should strive to do all the time. Support the people and causes that align with your deeply held beliefs.

Regularly, strive to take back the things you control — your thinking, actions, and responses. How do you do it? Create a space in your schedule for real reflection to occur – make a list of things you can control, and the things you can’t – focus on what you can do to maximize those you can control. Ensure that your words and deeds are aligned to your values. Struggling to envision how you can create that space for reflection in your busy life? The average American spent over two hours on social media each day in 2019. Projections show the average adult will spend a total six years, eight months of their lives on social media.

Imagine a world where every single one of us who is registered to vote, made it to the polls today – and then, regardless of the outcome of the election, dedicated time regularly to advocate on issues that will make the world more just and equitable place. That’s a powerful vision.