Why is Power Important for Escape?
We all have a certain amount of personal power. I don’t just mean the power that comes with a job (CEO, nurse, barista – these all have the power to make or break someone’s day). There is a much more ephemeral power that we all hold, the power to live our own lives, to love ourselves, to determine our own path. You can generate more power, you can give it away, and you can lose it and find it again. Many of us are completely unaware of just how much power we actually have in our own lives – and how much we regularly give away.The really tricky part is that in order to engage with life, to have relationships – to be an employee, business partner, family member, friend , lover - we have to give away some of our power to the other person, or organisation, or group. A relationship is impossible without this power transaction, and we have to derive some of our power from a source outside of ourselves. All this is perfectly normal; the issues arise when the power balance is out of alignment, or when the sources of our power no longer work for us.We also know how it feels to be powerless. To feel as if we have no control over our lives or our decisions. To think that our choices have been made for us. That we have to meet certain expectations. I am sure I am not alone when I mention the depression, the lethargy, the Sunday Night Blues, the struggling to get out of bed, the self-medicating with alcohol or shopping or mini breaks. Feeling stuck.Many of us are stuck in a career or job that no longer satisfies us, and where we long to do something else. However, if you are feeling powerless, taking action to change your job, or go travelling, have adventures, or create a new business, can seem insurmountable. If this is the case, the first step for you is to power up: re-gain your power, identify new sources of power and re-align the power transactions in your life, so that you are ready and able to take the next steps.Power Up!My experience as a coach and counsellor, and also as a former City worker who finally escaped after 15 years, has shown there are several key steps you can take to power up. There is no timetable for completion, and some steps may need longer than others. This is also a psychological and spiritual exercise, with some self-examination required which may not be pleasant. But Escaping the City doesn’t mean running away from yourself – without doing the necessary work, the city mindset can follow you everywhere.1) Identify Where you Get Power FromThis can be anything from the food you eat, the company you keep and the activities you do – to the ideas and beliefs that you hold. Understanding the ways in which we leak power – and why – is the first step in gaining it back.An exercise I did when preparing for this essay was to write down all the areas where I leaked power, or where I felt I gave too much power away. My list included: money, prestige, organisations, security. Other examples might include the need for recognition, family or partner expectations, and lifestyle wants. The exercise requires you to think about how much power you give up to each item, why this occurs, and whether the power flow is towards you, or leaking outwards. My family never put any expectations on me about my career and have always been hugely supportive, so I derived a lot of power from them. However, there were other areas where I leaked a considerable amount of power.None of the elements mentioned above are unhelpful in their own right, it is when we give them meaning or hold beliefs around them that the problem starts. One such element for me was money. Money is neutral; it is used in exchange for goods and services and to fund investments. But when we attribute emotional meaning to it, we start to depend on it for our power. Money for me meant financial security, a way out of the shame of feeling poor, a way of feeling important, worthy and that I mattered. Once I had invested money with these beliefs, it took on an incredible importance for me, such that I would do (almost) anything to keep earning it. If I didn’t make money, and keep getting promoted and earning more, then I feared I would end up being all those things I was so afraid of: poor, vulnerable, unworthy. Money then had a huge power over me.2) Take responsibilityMany of us are far, far too quick to give up our power.When we give up our power, to other people, or organisations, it enables us to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. A classic example is missing a catch up with friends because you had to work late. Was the boss really expecting you to stay til 10pm, or was that the easy way out, rather than admitting that you prioritised work because it is more powerful for you?Having power is taking responsibility for yourself, your decisions, and your actions. It is not blaming someone or something else for the position in which you find yourself. Your family may have placed expectations on you around specific career paths, but it was still your decision to follow this path and meet their expectations; as it will be your decision to decide not to do this, if that’s what you want to do. Identifying and acknowledging these choices you made is a key step to accepting responsibility for your situation and gaining power. There is no power without responsibility, without ownership.Many people don’t want to take responsibility because then really you only have yourself to blame. Of course, the fact that you freely gave up your power already means that you are actually responsible for your current situation. Which is more empowering? Being responsible for handing over the steering wheel of your life to someone or something else? Or being responsible directly for your life, your freedom, your heart?3) Where do you put your energy?A question I always ask myself and clients is what do you give your energy to? Understanding this will provide a map of all the ways in which you continue to give energy to things which no longer serve you, and which continue to sap the power from you.When I knew I wanted to leave the corporate world, I also understood that I needed another 12 months’ worth of pay checks to put into my Escape Fund. This meant I had to go to work every day. However, it was my decision how much emotional energy I gave to the job. I avoided talking about it endlessly with friends at home. I tried not to get sucked in to the politics and drama of the workplace. I didn’t give energy to things that would leak cash, such as shopping for clothes I didn’t need. None of this meant that I didn’t do my best and didn’t work as hard as I could during office hours. That would be unethical and, also, the world is a small place and bridges are best left unburned. What it does mean, is not giving it too much of your power.Instead you can start focusing your energies on things and people that DO empower you. That might be an Escape Tribe, or completing a course in skills you want to acquire. It means talking about the things that excite you, rather than moaning about the job you want to leave. During my final 12 months before escaping, I went to the office for 10+ hours a day and did a good job but I got my energy from elsewhere: in teaching yoga to my colleagues, to running meditation groups online at the weekend, to building up coaching clients, to my own personal development and therapy. Once the energy from these new things starts flowing, you will feel more empowered even if these activities are not yet revenue generating.4) Set boundariesOne comment I hear often is how difficult it is to direct your energy towards the things that engage you, and away from things that drain. A key concept in not leaking power is that of boundaries.We use boundaries to manage the flow of energy and power. We neither want to have walls and lock in all our power (we would struggle to have a relationship or business partnership), and neither do we want to leak all our power away. How to do this? There are two types of boundary: an internal one where we decide what to let out, and an external one where we decide what we let in. The Internal Boundary I mentioned above, regarding not talking about things which don’t excite you, and therefore not giving them energy. Another example might be finding a safe space to share your escape story and experiences, in a journal or private Tumblr. An example of an External Boundary would be spending less time with those that don’t understand the journey you are on, and to develop new friends and tribes.Practical boundary setting in everyday life is something that can be practised regularly. One example for those still managing the old job whilst planning for an escape is by being clear about time spent in the office. There will be a period when you are likely to be doing the old job for money, and working towards new skills or experiences, plus have demands on your time from family and friends. Learning to be clear about what you will and won’t do, and when, will make your boundaries and energy direction very clear to you – and to others. If you wish to leave the office at 6pm to attend an Escape event, but your boss wants that report done for 10am tomorrow, you can clearly set the boundary by stating in advance that you must leave at 6pm, but you will come back later, or log in from home, or come in early to finish it. This might not always be possible, but in my experience, being clear about where your boundaries lie tends to be better respected by those around you then just giving in and going ‘oh OK’. At the very least you should state what you intend to do, even if your manager then forbids it!Power is keyWhere we put our drive and energies determines our path. Where we source our power from will also set our destination. If you dislike your corporate job and want to escape but still derive a lot of your personal power from your salary and lifestyle, job title and image, then this will make it hard to leave. The key is letting go of these power sources and finding new ones which will aid our escape. To come unstuck requires the courage to start unpicking where you have handed over power to other people, organisations, ‘stuff’, and understand you freely gave this power away; to take back your power, and by acknowledging your responsibility to yourself.This article was written for