What I’ve learnt about power in five years
Elli Miller writes a letter on the topic power to his Year 12 self.
The theme for this current edition of Et Cetera is ‘Power’. I was sitting on the idea for a while, trying to think what I could write about and I was pretty stumped, to tell you the truth. I thought that 2019 was going to be a very easy year for me, but we’re already in April and I feel as if I’m busier than ever. And 2018 was busy enough.
But I’ve been thinking how far I’ve come in five years. How, myself, Elli, in Year 12 would have been so unfit to deal with what I’m doing at the moment. Whether that has to do with leadership, relationships, or the improvement of the self. I wanted to write to myself, Elli in 2014 and give him some advice I’ve picked up on power in five years. What I’ve learnt and what he can take away from it. I thought it would be a nice little creative piece, which I also believe you can benefit from.
Anyways, here it goes, I hope you enjoy.
Dear Elli (circa 2014),
A quick search on Google tells me that you have just started your second term of year 12. If I recall correctly, you have a pretty good study timetable put together, but that hasn’t made Year 12 one of the hardest things you have ever had to deal with. But that’s not what I’ve come to write to you about.
What is power? How does power apply to you, a tall, skinny, 17-year-old, without as much acne anymore but who’s dealing with so much other stuff? Five years doesn’t seem like all too long but I think I’ve learned a few things here and there. To be honest, I believe this piece may be more for me imparting my wisdom onto you then it is for you hearing it. You really do have so much more important things to deal with. Improving your mental health, trying to get into Medicine, finding yourself your first girlfriend. As for those concerns, all I can say is that it ALL works out. Anywho…
What is power? In the five years between yourself to myself, I think I have one working definition of power which can be applied to several theatres of life.
Power is the ability to impress control onto others or onto other things to effectuate change.
The only note I’d like to add before starting off is that the change you made may not have been the one you set out to make.
Two years from your now, you will be going to the Monash Leadership Development Seminar (LDS). One of the key-note speakers will be ‘The Project’s’ Waleed Aly, who will take fault with the entire premise of the LDS.
He will say something along the lines of, ‘power is not something that should be sought for power’s sake’. But when he asks his audience why they registered for the LDS they will tell him how they wanted to affect change, improve their communities, spread awareness of the trials and tribulations that their niche was facing. Which surprised Waleed and he apologised to us all because he realised we were there for the sake of doing good and instilling change.
From my time in student clubs, and being somewhat involved in student politics, I can testify that it is too easy to find yourself being caught up and involved.
Student clubs are in constant fear of finding new competent leaders to replace the outgoing leadership. The one-year terms of clubs and societies make change difficult to affect.
In 2016 I decided to become the Vice-President of one club at Monash on a whim. Why not? I thought it was a good way to get involved, to volunteer and help my community. And I didn’t do a bad job. I along with the committee created engaging events, brought in speakers, solved crises on campus, expanded our social media reach. I learnt a lot. But the main critique I have for myself was that I lacked vision.
And just as I was getting a handle of the entire process, I found some new, but willing victims who would take up my place. Before I went on to another position and repeat one other cycle.
When you are in a position of power it is easy to effectuate change. For me at least, I learnt a lot about organising events, conflict resolution, and dealing with a busy schedule. And while I helped to continue on what my club was doing, engage a niche of students, I feel as if I got the better end of everything. I learnt, and I improved, and some people enjoyed a sunny afternoon to have a barbeque with friends, but that isn’t enough!
In university clubs you can get away with continuing on what past years have been doing, as long as you do it effectively. But to create proper change, to improve and build on the foundations, you need vision.
When you first start to date someone, I think both people are trying to feel for where the other is at. Potential partners are wanting to know what they’re in for. Is it to see where things are going? Or just if they’re attracted enough to them for a root? Do they want just to date because dating is fun, and they have fundamental commitment issues? A relationship? Marriage? A lot happens in the first few weeks, few dates, few minutes of meeting Someone New (queue up Hozier).
But where does power come into the picture? I think, and especially when it comes to dating someone new, it comes more into play when nothing has been laid open.
Do you know what I mean? Well you wouldn’t personally but I’m sure you can understand. You’ve gone on a few dates and you’re really liking this person, but you haven’t discussed what you both want?
I believe when you engage in that conversation, ‘the talk’ you can enter it from different power positions.
For me, at different times of my life, I’ve come into that conversation from a submissive place, asking ‘What do you want? What are you expecting?’
And I say that it comes from a place of submission, because I put myself on the line. I lay out my emotions on how I felt on the matter, and the other partner has all the decision-making power. In that moment they have the most sway on the future of my outcome with them.
On the other hand, I’ve come into that conversation from a dominant place, saying ‘this is where I’m at; this is what I want’.
Coming into that conversation with confidence saying, ‘I know what I want’ does leave the other person with the power to decide what ultimately happens with your relationship with them, but you also enter that conversation with a lot of power. You are willing to share with pride what you want. And that’s hard, it requires a lot of courage, and confidence, and determination.
Having said all this, I’ve also been the person who hasn’t been open. I’ve let things go on for a while not having ‘the talk’, for ultimately when that conversation to arise, there was such a mismatch between what I wanted and what she wanted that she was left feeling quite hurt.
I’ve been the person who has had that conversation early on, discussing what I want, and what she wants, and we’ve both come out on the same level wanting the same thing. We both came from an equal level of power.
I have also had a conversation where we were both wanting the same thing, but the power was much more weighted towards me. This left the other person in a position of vulnerability which was compounded by where she was in life and how I filled that position.
All these relationships are complicated, and I know, they are quite vague, but relationships between people, especially ones where sex is implicated can be quite dangerous. Because, when emotions come into play, power is shifted to the person who has the potential to effectuate emotion.
But when it comes to actually being in a relationship, I ideally think it’s best when both partners are on an equal level (well duh). But that is rarely the case in life. One of the main beliefs I carry to this day is that long term sustainability requires balance. And for a relationship to work there must be balance between both partners. That is not to say that in every theatre of the relationship there must be balance, but that overall balance should be shared. Everyone should carry their load and their share.
Power in Friendships
Now this topic is somewhat paradoxical, because I’m of the belief that there shouldn’t be any power imbalances in friendships.
My mum has this one phrase which has stuck with me for years, and it’s not only because she likes to repeat it at least twice a year.
“Don’t abuse the friendship” she says.
Friendships are about give and take, and to give without the expectation of receiving. If a friend gives to you, you will feel humbled and more importantly, you will want to return to give in return for the sake of giving.
If the friendship is abused, and you find they just take and take and take, without even the thought of giving back, are they even your friend? Friends who mistreat you and think of you as a means for their personal improvement, are they even your friend?
And this all returns back to that theme of balance. I haven’t had any problems (or major problems) with friendships, and I have been extremely fortunate to have such a strong group to support me. But also, to roast me. But it’s all about give and take.
Just two final non-related notes about friendship.
- If you ever want to actually get a gathering underway, don’t message the group chat. Call people!
- If you’re making a new friend, try and figure out how many long-standing friends they have. It says a lot about a person if they have been able to maintain a friendship/
Having power over one’s self
I know this may be weird Elli, but just go with me for a second.
How do you have power over yourself? It’s quite simple really.
Having power over yourself means overcoming your basic instincts. Being disciplined. Gaining control over your life. Overcoming your self-constructed obstacles to reach your goals.
I think the easiest way to look at how you can have power over yourself is addiction. With any addiction, there is a force which has control over you, pulling you away from what you REALLY want to do.
Social media is probably the best example I can think of. I’m going to tell you a story and I want you to think about whether it applies to you.
You wake up, and rather than get out of bed straight away, you reach over to your phone, scrolling mindlessly through Facebook for five minutes, then it gets to 7:06 and you might as well keep on going till 7:10, but then it’s suddenly 7:30 and you now have 20 minutes till the bus comes.
You’re trying to study, you sit down, prepared to get to work, you get in a real good space of mind, and then *buzz* you look at your phone, which is just to your side. A notification? What could it be? You go back to your work, but this time your looking at your phone in your periphery. Is that a green flashing light? Has someone sent you a Snap? Or are you just imagining things. This goes on and you find your attention is split. You lose your productivity.
You’re out with your friends, socialising, letting loose. But you find yourself mindlessly taking your phone out of your pocket, the image of Bilbo checking his ‘Ring’ enters your mind. You’re sitting down, shoulders hunched, head down, looking at who’s messaged you, checking that meme. And you think it’s alright because your thing is important. But you look up and find everyone’s doing the same. Were you really hanging out?
At what point did you think you could leave your phone in your pocket? Did you ever think you could look at your phone later while you were trying to work, while you were trying to be with your friends, your partner?
Addictions are the one thing which stop you from achieving what you’re about to do.
I hope that talking to you about social media in particular got that message across, but by no means is it the only addiction or is it the only thing getting in your way.
Power is realising what you need to do to get what you want. To eventuate the future, you have created for yourself in your imagination. To be back in control.
Power, especially in your case Elli, is being able to go into crowded places without having a panic attack, it’s about getting into Medicine, it’s about finding love and finding you can be loved, it’s finding happiness in your friends, it’s about staying connected. Power, for yourself, is putting yourself in control.
I hope this helps you get a bit more of an idea as to how power plays a role, and how ‘power plays’ are a roll in your day to day life. It’s all up to you to cease that power for yourself and be a force for good.
I love you and I miss you and can’t wait for you to meet me,
P.S. I wonder what Elli in another 5 years’ time will have to say about power?
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