When I was a young girl, I would venture into the woods behind my house almost every day. There was something special about the pristine world that began beyond the tree line. I knew it well: the huge throne-like rock on which I'd sit breathing in the clean air; the carpet and canopy of leaves shielding from above and protecting from below; the sounds of the brook and the birds, and the little bugs. Absorbed, I felt the order of things as they were in the world, a flow, and an indescribable sense of power.
There is a natural human urge to feel powerful. In The Will to Power, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that an individual's relationship to power is the driving force in life. Nietzsche says that "Man strives to be master over all space and to extend its force (its will to power), and to thrust back all that resists its extension." But man continually encounters similar efforts on the part of others and compromises by coming to an arrangement or union with them; various forces "conspire together for power." Personal empowerment, therefore, comes down to the degree to which one successfully creates that union and "conspires together" with others to live a happy, creative and contented life.
Some people are born to power or are propelled to it through the sheer strength of God-given genius, extraordinary talent or just being in the right place at precisely the right time. Commonly known as "the capacity for control or force," power has been considered for eons the currency of greatest value. Everyone craves power. People lie and cheat and sell their souls for it. Some people achieve power innocently enough, only to be corrupted by its overwhelmingly seductive qualities. Absolute power's ability to corrupt absolutely is evident anywhere one might wish to look.
Nonetheless, in our society, more than anything else, power is equated with wealth. The richest among us are considered the most powerful because they have an abundance of choices at their disposal and access is limited only by what their money can buy. We talk about sociological power, a higher power, purchasing power or the power to satisfy the endless needs of our IT-obsessed, plug-and-play world. As the most evolved species on the planet, the human race has managed to harness the earth's power, claiming it as its own.
On the other hand, power is the least understood aspect of human potential. Chinese sage, Lao-tzu, said that the biggest stumbling block to happiness is that people experience themselves as powerless, giving rise to the enemy of power: Fear. Fear paralyzes and kills the innate "will to power" that motivates a person to greater heights and profound insights. Bravery, which is the ability to move directly through fear rather than trying to avoid or sidestep it, is the true mark of achieving personal power.
Courageousness becomes a renewable source of inspiration. The human capacity to discover that wellspring clears the way to achieving one's heart's desire, whatever it may be. Or, as The Tao of Pooh, tells us: "We simply need to believe in the power that's within us, and use it."
So what is the secret to accessing personal power? How does one go beyond fear and self-doubt to triumph in the end? Where does the feeling of power really come from? And how can a person find it for him or herself?
The New York Times science writer, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, stresses emotional intelligence (EI) is as equally important to a person's intelligence quotient (IQ) in accessing the crucial building blocks to a successful life. The first step in raising EI is to "know thyself," as Socrates noted in 400 B.C., or as Goleman restates today, to be aware of one's feelings "as they occur," developing a "non-reactive, nonjudgmental awareness to inner states." In this way, an over-reactive self is controlled through the simple awareness of one's tendency to be so. A person's automatic reactions are quieted, replaced by the cultivation of wise, measured, more self-aware responses.
Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, the father of person-centered psychotherapy, says that when an individual becomes "more fully and more deeply himself," it results in finding greater satisfaction and happiness in all aspects of his or her life. When in touch with personal power, life stops being such a struggle, and one feels a general ease and attunement to the natural flow of things. As the mystic Osho, states, "Existence cannot be forced to go according to you; it flows in its own way. If you can flow with it, you will be positive. If you fight with it, you will become negative, and the whole cosmos around you will turn negative."
The phenomenal success of Dr. Rick Warren's book, A Purpose Driven Life, highlights the need people have to feel a sense of power over the direction their lives take. Living a life of purpose is what most people are ultimately seeking. Finding the core of one's power is not an external pursuit of excess and glory but, rather, an inner quest. This desire for empowerment activates an orientation that fosters positive outcomes, leaving us feeling powerful rather than fearful, self-confident rather than defeated - triumphant in the end. And, instead of looking somewhere over the rainbow to a fantasized and unreal world, personal power, as Dorothy learned after trekking all the way to Oz and back, is no further away than the woods in our own backyard.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.