What can we do when we feel powerless at work?

Most of us have had those moments at some point in our careers where we've felt powerless. But what if the reality is that we're contributing to our own feeling of powerlessness?

Go to the profile of Vanessa Anstee
Sep 12, 2014
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It sounds crazy that we could be unwittingly contributing to our own powerlessness but the reality is sometimes we do!

I remember this one time at work work where I was completely frustrated. I could see how the organisation I was working in needed to shift their leadership impact and yet I just couldn't seem to persuade the senior levels of the organisation that this would be a useful and wise investment of their time and energy.

I was hugely frustrated. I tried everything to illustrate the problem and offer solutions. I demonstrated it from a logical, theoretical and intuitive perspective. I interviewed people and played back soundbites. I used every bit of creative energy I had but all roads led to the same point of delay and back burner.

It was only when I was on the phone to my coach that I saw how my feeling of powerlessness was coming from within me. "You're being a victim." He said after listening to my complaint. I I felt a mixture of sadness and anger. Being a victim was the last thing that I wanted to be and yet a part of me knew I was giving my power away to this organisation.

My coach reminded me of the power of choice. He asked me to consider that maybe this organisation was exactly where it needed to be and that I was at choice to decide if I wanted to stay and accept the challenges as they were, or to leave. He asked me what I wanted to do.

I was unsure. I wanted to be doing work that lit me up. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to use my creative and intuitive gifts. And there was a big BUT. That but was the Money ... I thought I couldn't afford to leave.

My coach pointed out that my fear was what was holding me to stay stuck and powerless and hanging out in a victim perspective. I kept blaming the organisation for not listening, instead of embracing my fear and going for what I wanted.

Having someone show me what I was doing was all I needed to make a new choice. I thought about the legacy I wanted to leave my girls. I didn't want to be a victim who came home and role modelled constant complaining for the sake of the money.

I wanted to show them that you can go for your dreams and self empower.

I made the choice to quit ... and I did. That decision is the one that has taken me to where I am now and the work that I now love.

I believe that it's in these kind of moments that we have the choice: breakdown or breakthrough. I'm not saying it's easy but what I know from personal experience is that it is possible. Whenever I've made those big, scary breakthrough choices, I've self empowered and I've released a new energy that takes me forward.

If you're feeling powerless at work try this ...

  1. Take a step back from the situation. Imagine yourself getting up from where you are and moving behind or to the side of you.
  2. Look at the situation from that distanced perspective.
  3. Ask yourself, "What do I really want?" If the answer is "I don't know" then stay with the question. "I don't know" is sometimes a smokescreen for being confused because you're scared you can't have something. And if you genuinely don't know, take time to explore that question further because only you can answer it.
  4. Identify the fears that come up as reasonable excuses of why you can't have what you want: money, time, fear of rejection etc.
  5. Remember that the power to choose consciously comes from within. Perhaps you have to give yourself permission to make a new choice.
  6. Decide to take charge of your own life and cease to be a victim of circumstance.
Go to the profile of Vanessa Anstee

Vanessa Anstee

Work with Courage, -

I'm inspired by who you can be without apology and I want to help you release your fullest expression. My life turned around when I was given feedback on a leadership programme that I had an apologetic energy. I felt a mixture of anger and sadness because it was exactly how I was living and who I was being. I'd been giving my power away and playing small in a conditioned way of living. I took my 20+years corporate experience in OD, HR, Learning and Development, embraced my dreams and started living life on my own terms. I learnt to let self empowerment and authenticity trump fitting in, playing nice and fake harmonising. I help clients embrace their inner shine and play their bigger game.
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