The First Step to Being Powerful


Being Powerful

Dating back to 1400 B.C., the Oracle of Delphi was one of the most important places in all of Greece. It was a strange and mystical place. The oracle was said to be connected to Apollo and had the wisdom of the gods.

When a king or nobleman wanted to expand their power, they turned to the Oracle for advice. People as powerful as Alexander the Great to Roman Emperors sought out their guidance. Whole campaigns and strategies were created based upon what the oracle said.

But before these powerful people could meet the oracle, they waited at the entrance. And inscribed in stone, for all to see, were these words:

Know thyself.

No matter how lowly or mighty you were, the first step for all those entering the temple was the same: know thyself.

Today this advice still holds to be true.

If you want to find your power, you need to understand who you are. Before you can be powerful, you have to know how you work, your strengths and inner workings.

Getting To Know Yourself

How well do you really know yourself? Unless you’ve already given it careful thought, you might not be as aware as you might like to think. Fortunately there is a quick and easy way to find out.

You might be familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch. It’s a short summary describing yourself and your strengths to another person. The whole idea is that you should be able to deliver the summary in the short span of an elevator ride which lasts roughly thirty seconds to two minutes.

So let’s do it. For the next two minutes, give your pitch. Either say it out loud or think it to yourself, but try to explain who you are, what you’re really good at and why. And please, try to stay away from generic statements like “good communication skills”.

Ready? Go.

What was the result?

Did you struggle with your strengths or did you know them?

This might not have been too hard for you considering that elevator pitches are commonly taught to job seekers who are instructed to rehearse them. But even if you’ve never done one before, you still might have had a few things to say.

But you need to know yourself more than this. Your strengths are only the start.

Let’s do another elevator pitch, but this time let’s take a look at your weaknesses.

Once again, take a minute or two to tell someone about what you’re not good at. What could be improved upon? What are you not as good at as you’d like?

Ready? Go.

What was the result this time?

This was probably harder for you. Most people are comfortable focusing on what they’re good at, but avoid looking at what they’re not. We like to showcase the highlights and brush everything else aside.

However, your weaknesses are just as important as your strengths. While our strengths tend to get us places and help us on our journey, our weaknesses can hold us back. If we don’t know them, we might be missing something that is weighing down progress in our lives.

Once you understand them, you have two choices:

1. Let them go. If the weakness isn’t a big drag on your ability to be successful, you might not have to do anything at all.

2. Work on them. Turn that weakness into a strength. Or at least modify it so that it won’t hold you back anymore.

Know Thy Inner Voice

Of course, there’s a lot more to who you are than just your strengths and weaknesses. To really get to know yourself, you still need to look at your inner dialogue.

What’s inner dialogue you ask?

This is the “discussion” you have going on in your head.

Let’s look at this example:

Let’s say someone has hurt you recently or said something you don’t like, what do you do?

You re-enact the whole scene in your mind complete with dialogue. You might envision yourself talking angrily. Perhaps you think about what you could have said or what should have happened.

If you talk to yourself harshly or criticize yourself, your inner dialogue can leave you feeling angry, helpless or sad.

My inner dialogue used to do this frequently after parties. I’d re-enact scenes in my head of conversations or situations that went badly, but ignored the ones that went successfully. That gave me a skewed version of events that left me sad and full of doubt.

Your inner dialogue is an activity that goes on whether you like it or not. But it’s powerful because it affects our emotions, thoughts and behavior.

This is important: we become the story we tell ourselves. Your inner dialogue can be like affirmations – constantly thinking about the same subject for too long makes you accept these thoughts and words which causes you to act on them.

What’s important is that you be consciously aware of them.

When you find the conversation dwelling in useless or negative territory, stop it. Change it to something more productive. If your dialogue is giving you a skewed version of events, try to balance them out.

Unless you get control of your inner dialogue, all those strengths you listed earlier won’t make much of a difference.

On to Step Two

Once you’ve got a handle on your strengths, weaknesses and mental attitude, you’re ready for the next step to being powerful: taking action outside yourself.

Where are you going to direct your power? What world do you want to conquer?

If we were standing at the entrance to the oracle of Delphi, this is the time when you would walk in and ask your question which could determine your destiny.

It’s up to you to decide. But whatever path you want to take, it will become a lot easier once you take that all-important first step: know thyself.
photo credit: Scott Swigart

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  1. Ha, ha, such a short post and such a monumantal challenge:
    “Once you’ve got a handle on your mental attitude…”
    I still don’t have a handle on it.

    2 cents from my experience: journal, mediitate and pray daily. Spend as much time in your head as possible. This will speed up knowing thyself considerably.

    • It takes time to get a handle on your mental attitude. It’s not always easy. I know that I keep watching out for it and trying to make sure what I’m thinking about is positive. Even today, I still tend to think on bad interactions and outcomes from meetings. But I just stop and remind myself of all the good interactions I have too. That puts me right back into the right mindset.

  2. Know thyself is an important first step. And my Grandfather used to tell us, “half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.” Indeed. Acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses is really key to taking control of our own lives. If you don’t understand your self, it’s very difficult to make any kind of progress or change.

    • What your grandfather said reminds me of a quote from Socrates. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” If we don’t know our weaknesses, we might miss something that is holding us back.

  3. Years ago my inner voice was non-stop negativity. Giving the positive trait elevator pitch would have been quite difficult for me. Anything that came easily – or even skills that I’d worked hard to attain – was immediately dismissed as unimportant because if I could do it, anyone could. I don’t know when things changed, I think it was in my 30s, but now I think I have a much more balanced perception of my strengths or areas of improvement. I can’t wait to see where I will be mentally in another 10 years!

    • If you’re dismissing your skills away like that, it would be hard to recognize your strengths. That’s the negative side of inner dialogue working right there. It’s the same thing that kept me from improving my social skills. I kept thinking how bad I was at conversation. What really was going on was how I kept imagining myself in social situations. I kept focusing on the bad and ignoring the good. You can’t do that if you want to become better.

  4. “Know thyself” — definitely a good piece of advice :) I like your activity too. Good way to test whether you truly know/understand yourself. And something else to keep in mind is that throughout your life you should check in with yourself from time to time since you grow and change, and who you were 5 years ago might not still be the same person.

    • Yeah, we should all be marking our own personal progress. I like to look at where I was five years ago and see how far I’ve gone. Not only does it make me feel good, but it can give me a little guidance as to where I want to be in the future.

  5. Steve,
    I think admitting to weaknesses gets easier as we get older. I believe it’s a sign of maturity.

    One way I think knowing ourselves is vital is so we can better apply advice we get. Some advice won’t be relevant and other advice will.

    For example, if we’re disorganised then advice on how to be better organised or how to minimise the need for getting things sorted will be useful. Conversely, the super-regimented individual might want totally different advice on how to be less rigid.

    • I can see it as a sign of maturity. When I was younger, I was a more certain, but that lead to stubbornness. Today I’m more open to the idea that I might have weaknesses that need correction. I don’t know if that’s just me or if we all go through that. Interesting.

  6. Hey Steve – reminded me of this Lao Tzu quote: “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power…” SO much of our time is externally focused, that we forget about what really matters – our internal state. The better we understand ourselves psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, the more power we have to take on the world around us. Knowing ourselves takes time and a willing to go within and raise some of those questions you posed. I’ve found carving out time to go within important to get a better understanding of myself.

    • In order to get the most out of the world, we must first get the most out of ourselves.

      I’ve read that quote before too which is partly the inspiration for this post. Instead of focusing entirely outwards, we have to look inwards at ourselves – at what we’re good at, what we’re not and how we can use that to improve our lives.

  7. I like this approach, Steve. Harness the knowledge we have of ourselves to change our inner environment and then change our outer environment. Great stuff!

  8. I had a relatively easy time coming up with my weaknesses but probably because I have been interviewing for jobs and they always ask you to list your weaknesses!

    In all seriousness though, knowing yourself is important not only for yourself, but also for your relationships as well as your career. Take the time to get to know yourself and you will have a much better life.

  9. Hello Steve,

    I just discovered your blog because you left a comment on an article written by my girlfriend Chantalle (want2discover). I must say, I really like your articles and the topics you are writing about.

    This article has a very powerful message. It is so important to know yourself and be aware of our inner dialogue. We can sometimes really talk our self down. Instead it is much more fruitful to talk to our self in a positive and constructive way. I really like that you give a few little exercises. I’ll do them later this afternoon ;-).

    Thanks and Chantalle and I will keep following your blog!

    Warm regards,

  10. Great post Steve!

    For me trying to strengthen my ended up trying to be someone else.
    Only when I embraced my weaknesses as well as my strengths, was I able to work on them in the right way.

    I work on strengthening my strengths. But also the weaknesses that are potential strengths of who I am.
    I’m not trying to be someone else anymore. I’m trying to be the best me.

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