photo of Mary Beard, classicist and caption "Power: Got any?"

In a series of fascinating recent conversations I’ve had with colleagues, clients, and friends, the subject that kept coming up was POWER. And the fact that we can view any human interaction through the lens of power differentials: who has more and who has less of it. So let’s talk POWER: yours, mine, ours.

We can view any human exchange as a kind of “one-upmanship” in action. On some unconscious level, we register where we stand: who has more power in a relationship in the moment, and in a given situation. We size up who’s in charge, who has more clout, more status, who defers to whom, who owes what to whom, and who makes the final decision.

Of course this can be a cynical view of human relations. After all, there’s more going on than one-upping each other. And in most “healthy” relationships (personal and work-related) there’s a give and take, a flux in the power differential from moment to moment.

But here’s the thing: we all make assumptions about what power is and how it works. And our assumptions about power can have a major impact on our lives and careers.

The zero-sum game

The majority of musicians I know grew up feeling as I did, in awe of the teachers we studied with and the conductors we auditioned for. We grew up intimidated by critics, competition judges, and concert presenters. This means we constantly viewed others as having the power. This doesn’t set us up well for taking healthy initiative, having healthy self-esteem, or speaking truth to power.

If we understand power as something outside of ourselves, that’s bestowed on others and is wielded by others, then we make ourselves powerless. And we may put up with the unacceptable because we believe it’s just “the way things are.” So we abdicate our responsibility, our agency, our power.

The good news is there are better ways to go.

Redefining power

If we assume that formal power structures are the only ones that are real, we lose. The classicist Mary Beard (in the photo above), in a lecture for the London Review of Books (and in her book Women and Power), notes that . . .

“Typically we think of power as very elite, coupled to public prestige, to the individual ‘celebrity’ leader. Usually a charismatic male.

We think of power as a zero sum game. A meritocracy. But this is treating power very narrowly, as a thing that only a few, mostly men, can possess or wield.”

Mary invites us to think about power differently. That we can decouple it from public prestige. And think about the collaborative and collective power of followers—not just of leaders.

And above all, she suggests we “think of power as an attribute, or even a verb ‘to power’—not as a possession.”

She suggests we think of power as the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, to make change. And as the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.

So it’s high time to . . .

Claim Your Power

Because you have more of it than you realize. You have the power to think differently, to speak up, and create something new. The power to connect, to influence others—and to affect change in your life and in the world.

On the most basic front, you have the power to choose how you will spend this day, this hour. You have the power to choose which of the competing voices in your head you’ll listen to (the ruthless inner critic or the cheerleader). Your power lies in the choices you make, the actions you take.

How might we step into our own power and create change together?

For inspiration, check out cellist Amanda Gookin’s interview in the LA Times about her path to bring social issues into the realm of classical music. It’s terrific!

And to help you claim your power, join us for the next Beyond Talent clinic—our monthly Zoom gathering of the Beyond Talent community where we brainstorm solutions to music career dilemmas. Get on the e-list here, so you get the notifications, plus the weekly e-newsletter of music career tips and inspiration.

Here’s to claiming your power,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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