No matter what our age, we grew up with stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Rhaponzel. These stories feature females as the main character, but always as a helpless victim, waiting to be rescued by a strong, capable male (preferably a prince.) The men have all the adventure. Our heroine is captured, imprisoned, or exploited. This exploitation is too often done by another female, leaving the male hero image untarnished. The heroine's powerlessness is always rewarded in the end, when she is whisked away to live happily ever after. Of course, none of us really expect to live a fairy tale existence, but we often insist on expecting someone else to manage, or at least improve, our lives. When this doesn't happen, it is their fault, not our own. After all, we are powerless. However, we are also the ones who suffer.

Lynda Moore, in Not as Far as You Think, The Realities of Working Women, explains that women tend to believe their lives are governed by factors outside their control. They are more likely to believe others, such as a boss, husband, or family, control what happens to them. We are also much more likely than men to attribute our success to luck.

In fact, people who seem lucky are often the least likely to leave their lives to luck. Instead they take control of their circumstances as much as possible. Luck, or fate, plays a part in all our lives, but anyone who counts on luck rather than her own abilities will be disappointed. The same is true for those of us who count on someone else to manage our lives or careers. My friend Edna and her husband spent fifteen years planning and plotting his career. They discussed which people he should get to know better, who should learn of his achievements, what his next position should be. As he climbed the corporate ladder, she gladly went along for the ride. Then they divorced. Edna needed to return to the work force and didn't know where to begin. She told me, "I wish he had just once said, ‘What would you like to do? What kinds of things interest you?" They planned his career, but did not plan hers. Now she recognizes that hers was ignored, when it, too, should have been planned. What she does not realize, however, is that it was not up to him to approach the subject. Her life and its planning are her own responsibility.

Sandy was hired to make telemarketing calls for a software firm. She was told that the job would lead to sales, which offered about four times her current pay. She did her job and learned a lot about the product line. After a couple of years, she had not been promoted. She told the sales director, whom she did not work for directly, that she wanted a job as a sales representative. He said she would be considered when a position opened. Months went by, and he received pressure from his management to hire people with sales experience. The sales director never heard from Sandy again. Although I urged her to see him and tell him why she would be good for the job, she sat back patiently. She did not want to be seen as "pushy," although I reminded her that she was applying for a job that required such behavior. Years have passed, and Sandy has never gotten the job for which she is qualified. She is behaving as if she is powerless in her career development, and she is.

Women are much more likely than men to behave the way we feel. When we feel powerless, we act powerless. This may seem obvious to you, since of course our feelings dictate our reactions. As you work more with men and career women, you will find they often behave the way they are expected to behave, no matter how they feel. It is our behavior that is judged, not our feelings. My personal contention is that very few men are actually handed power of any kind, they just assume it. When women assume power and authority, they get it, at least a lot more than other women. The next time you feel powerless, try acting as if you are empowered. You may be surprised at the results.

Perhaps you are relinquishing power to someone you believe is more capable of managing your career than you are. Maybe you want to be taken care of. According to the Working Women's Report:

"There are no ‘parents' in the business world; no strong protectors who know everything, no daddies or mommies who will praise us for our good deeds, or indulge our mistakes, or take care of us in return for our loyalty, or punish us when we have the temerity to branch out on our own. Our bosses are just people, and work for the same reasons we do." Bryant, Gay, with Editors of Working Woman

If we wait for someone else to push, prod, and force us along, we will have a very long wait.

Consider carefully the issue of powerlessness in your life. Many of us want to feel powerless. By having no power, we relinquish all responsibility to someone else. We cannot be held accountable when we have no control over our circumstances. No one can blame us when things don't go right because everything was beyond our control, beyond our power to change. If this is your attitude, you are destined for a sad and frustrating life. You do have power over your own attitude and behavior, and it may be time to make some changes.


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