Mastering personal power
Words by Chloe Tonkin
I’m a woman and my experience will always be coloured by that. We have to approach life with a caution that men will never understand.
Power can come through politics, religion, sex and fear. Power can be yielded for the betterment of an individual or society, or it can be used to unravel them piece-by-piece. When we think and talk about power, it’s often in relation to the influence a person holds over someone else. Or the influence a group holds over another group. There will always be governments that come into power and make decisions that impact my life, whether I’ve voted for them or not. There will always be religious groups that influence the decisions people make. Even if you are not a religious person, it’s likely that religion will have some part to play within the society you live in. However, within this piece, I’ve chosen to look at personal power. With whatever power you hold in life, you can choose whether to use it for what you believe to be right, or you can abuse it to the detriment of others. Sometimes, you may use it for what you feel is right, and still have a negative impact on other people. We all know of the saying; with great power comes great responsibility. I believe that before you can work your way to a true position of power, where you are responsible for what happens to others at work, in society or at home, you need to exercise power over the self. You need to build mental strength and integrity by overcoming personal challenges, the opinions of others and society’s expectations for your life. You need time to explore and see how things unfurl, assess the outcomes of the choices you make, and take what you learn forward in order to make better decisions in the future. Really, I believe that true power can only come through time and experience. My own personal challenges have included low self-esteem, anxiety and self-sabotage, among others. Some of the poorest decisions I have made have been under the influence of these darker emotions, where my actions have been driven by fear. Over the years, I have even experienced moments where I’ve felt separate from my own life and body, as if a stranger was in charge of the choices I made that day. These experiences certainly weren’t the most empowering. It’s taken time for me to realise that I have power over whether I listen to the unkinder voices in my head, allow myself to be consumed by fear and those darker emotions or whether I pay better attention to the kinder ones. But now I fully understand that I have power over my own behaviour and I am the only one who can decide whether there’s a more positive approach to take. You have to observe your emotions and choose whether to let them consume you or whether to simply feel them and then let them go. In short, you have power over the dialogue in your head. Something I will never have control over is the actions of some people and therefore the things they say and do to me, and how they assert their own power over me. I’m a woman and my experience will always be coloured by that. We have to approach life with a caution that men will never understand. A walk through the streets at night means something different for me and my female friends than it does for one of my male friends. When someone has more physical strength than another, the power balance can shift in an instant. It can be as quick as flicking a switch.
Perhaps striving for the things you believe to be important, even though the journey to get there is heart-breaking and uncertain, is the final challenge we face in mastering our own personal power.
When it comes to personal relationships, there will be people who I connect deeply with and similarly those who will never be on my page. You can never be sure which way it will go, which is one of the most exciting parts of life. However, sometimes you can let the way someone views you have too much power over your life and how you feel about yourself. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Relationships and break-ups can often drive this, where you are left feeling unlovable, or as though you don’t measure up to some imaginary idea of what constitutes as an “acceptable, loveable person.” My Dad once told me to “take back your power” in this situation. It’s up to me how much I let someone’s opinions or actions affect my own thinking and behaviour. I can choose to be deeply worried by someone’s negative opinion of me, or I can choose to let it go and decide I’ll be just fine without their approval. You can decide to see another’s opinion as a lesson, and strive to improve as a person in a constructive way. Sometimes criticism genuinely comes from a place of love and we have the power to distinguish that. But, if you’re truly content and at peace with who you are as a person, you can choose to see someone else’s opinion as nothing more than hilariously funny. Self-acceptance is a ladder, but it’s one worth climbing. Ultimately, how we feel about ourselves should be up to us. After all, we’re the only ones who have the whole picture. Something I have been grappling with more recently is how much power I should let society’s expectations have over my life. I know deep down that the answer is none, but it doesn’t always feel that easy. I’m nearing my thirtieth birthday and had expected to be in a slightly different place. I’m not always sure whether these expectations really came from me and my genuine wants and needs, or society’s perception of where I should be by now. This picture of how I thought my life would look drove a very painful decision in the last year, and one that I still question. I’ve questioned why I should sacrifice today’s happiness, for a tomorrow I’m not even sure is coming. In the end, I think you have to trust that you know yourself enough to never compromise on the things that truly matter to you. If you listen to your gut then you can never look back with regrets, knowing that all you did was try to squeeze every last drop of happiness from this one life you’ve been given. Perhaps striving for the things you believe to be important, even though the journey to get there is heart-breaking and uncertain, is the final challenge we face in mastering our own personal power. And once we have that mastered that, once we have taken our lives into our own hands, we are in a better place to yield what power we have to the benefit and growth of others.
Chloë Tonkin is a PR consultant, working for a large agency in Auckland. Originally from the UK, Chloë has lived in New Zealand for three years and spends her weekends reading, writing and exploring as much of this beautiful country as she can. Outside of work, she writes about her adventures, as well as copy for a number of small start-ups and not-for-profits. You can see more of her work here or follow her on Instagram chloeftonkin
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