4 Ways to Own Your Power (and Not Give it Away)
The Beginnings of Owning My Power
More than three years out of law school, I was saddled with massive student debt and renting a single room from a friend, with my parents helping me pay for the basic necessities of life. I was working cheap as a prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona. I thought I had gone to law school to make a “better” life for myself, but things weren’t going as I had envisioned.
I was depressed about my financial situation, and I knew I had do do something about it.
I don’t know how or when the crazy idea came over me, but I had this thought I could do “better” by opening my own law practice. This thought wasn’t based on anything but a gut feeling, so I closed my eyes, plugged my nose and jumped off the ledge. Looking back, I’m surprised I was so brave back then.
All I can say is that I didn’t find the courage to quit my modestly (and bi-weekly) paying government job on my own. The courage simply found me.
As I was turning in my prosecutorial resignation to open my own business doors, the Chief Deputy, my boss, asked if I was sure I was doing the right thing. He told me I wouldn’t make it a year on my own. I puffed up like my dog does when she’s on the defensive, hair raised, tail high and completely unafraid. I asserted, with confidence, there was no question in my mind that I would make it.
Surprisingly, however, there was a lot more to being an entrepreneur than hanging up a shingle and buying a stapler (which is all I really did to get started). I had to figure out how to get clients, manage the administrative parts of being a business-owner and learn how to become a fair, assertive and effective supervisor.
I’m still learning how to do all of these things.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in my business (and in my life) is the importance of owning my power. Despite feeling so commanding at 29 years old while sitting in the Chief Deputy’s high rise office, as years pass, I realize now how much I still don’t know. I scare myself when I think about it, so I try not to. I really try to focus my game on all the good things I am, have achieved and want to accomplish in the future.
I focus on helping people.
For me, however, there is one thing that keeps popping up over and over and over again…
I love to give my power away to other people.
This has manifested in my choice of employees over 15 years of being a business owner.
Before I go on, I will tell you that my employees now are awesome. Every single one of them. They are everything any employer would want.
Buuut…in the past, the people I hired?
Up until recently, always women. Alpha-types. Inflexible.
Know-it-alls. Loud. Pushy. Manipulative.
In other words, the opposite of me.
Only within the last couple of years did I realize there was a lesson I needed to learn from all of them. I think I have finally got it. I hope so, anyway.
From me to you, here’s a small sampling of just a few of the things I experienced in my years of learning how to own my power in my business and in my life.
1. Own your power by trusting your gut instinct.
Let’s talk about one of my first assistants, “C.” My first clue that she wasn’t going to pan out was when I walked into the office from court on her 3rd day of work to find her and her husband having a hellatious argument in my conference room. My gut instinct told me I should’ve ended it there.
“I want to give her a chance. It’s only her 3rd day. Everybody has arguments with their husband, right?”
My relationship with C was toxic. She bossed me around. We didn’t share the same values. I knew she wasn’t a fit for me. Because she was a bully, I was “afraid” of her.
As a result of all this, I let her run the show.
A year or two after hiring her, our relationship started getting tense because I was finally voicing the fact that I was unhappy with the work she was performing. Coincidentally (or not), around that time, C “slipped” and “hurt” herself on some water that had leaked out of the water cooler in my office kitchen.
That same week, the attorneys I shared office space with found out she had hacked into their computer system. They trespassed her from the premises. Because she couldn’t come back to my place of work, what choice did I have but to tell her I could no longer pay her to work for me? In other words, I let her go.
C hired a worker’s compensation attorney and threatened to file suit against me for retaliatory firing.
I had to hire an attorney. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him the following:
“What’s worker’s compensation insurance? I need to have this?!!”
For months, I would go home and cry every night after work because I thought I would be bankrupted by the lawsuit. I was penalized by Arizona Worker’s Compensation. Every month, when I saw my attorney’s bill come in the mail, my stomach would drop because it was usually thousands of dollars.
I wanted to throw in the towel. I hated my life. I felt powerless.
That’s what happened because I gave my power away to someone, despite my gut telling me to stop.
2. Own your power by recognizing and asserting your role in every relationship you have.
Next, there was “M.” She was overwhelming in size, a heavy smoker and had a raspy voice. M was Italian and from New Jersey. She was powerful, confident, loud and forceful. She thought she knew it all. She was a bully, too.
Despite all of my insides screaming “NOOOOOOO!”, I let M run me and my show for a while. She told me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Not in a good way, either.
With M, the caca hit the fan after she hit the roof because I wouldn’t give her a raise she thought she deserved.
You aren’t getting a true flavor of what went down, but I’ll spare you the gore. Suffice it to say that things got ugly fast. M quit, taking her loud, annoying, raspy-voice with her. She also took much of the systems/work she created at my direction while in my employ.
I had to go to battle with her to get it back. More drama. More crying. More failure on my part.
All because I didn’t assert the roles that M and I each played in MY business.
3. Own your power by insisting that those in your life treat you with dignity and respect.
“K” started off sweet enough. She was young, pretty and borderline competent. I soon tired, however, of calling the office for one reason or another to never have the phone answered by her. As time went on, she “got my number,” and soon K was treating my clients with disrespect and mouthing off to me on a near daily basis, too. The final straw was when she reduced me to a sobbing mess in the middle of my office, “afraid” to leave because I would have to walk past her desk.
I knew that day I needed to fire her. I was afraid to actually pull the trigger. I’m a lawyer, but I’m also a softie. I was worried about her.
What would happen to this young single mom with 3 kids if she didn’t collect a paycheck from me?
Despite knowing she had to go, because of my all-to-kind heart, my friends and family had to talk me out of actually keeping her over the course of a weekend. In spite of my conflicted feelings, deep down, I knew that by keeping her, it would be like throwing myself off the side of a tall building in terms of my self-respect, my business and my day-to-day happiness.
The next work day, I bucked up and did the deed.
The firing went better than I expected, but it did involve her begging me to a certain extent. I’ve heard from her since, and she and her boys are just fine. I went on to rebuild my confidence and self-respect after she was gone.
Are you starting to see a pattern in my choice of employees?
4. Own your power by making a swift decision to let a clearly toxic person in your life go bye-bye.
I could go with similar stories about at least 5 more employees, but I won’t. I will just say that the last employee stole from me. She was converting potential clients who called the office (for me) and doing document preparation work for them on the side on my computers, using my work product, during working hours.
She had to go. Immediately.
That last person was the last bad employee I’ve had for a couple of years. Something inside me shifted when I let her go.
There was a time when I could only think of how “hard” it would be to let go of someone (because of the work involved in finding someone new, taking on extra work during the time I was looking for someone new and training the new person on my systems and my business). In some cases, avoiding the inconvenience of letting someone go was why I held on.
This thinking caused me to give away my power, not own it.
Thank goodness I’ve come to my senses. Life still has its challenges. Overall, however, I am happier and more at peace. I care about and trust the people with whom I work.
And them? They treat me with respect. They don’t kick me when I’m down. They pick me up when I’m falling. They save me every single working day.
When I’m feeling powerless, my co-workers remind me: I am powerful.
You are powerful, too.
Remember not to give your power away to those people who don’t deserve it.
Keep your eyes open for that person in your life who has forgotten their own power and remind them who they really are.
Sending you my wishes for a week in which you fight for your power!
All my best,