In career development, we often talk about empowerment, especially when it comes to leadership and team engagement.
As a career consultant, I often speak to leaders about how they engage with their team and they share how they seek to understand the strengths, skills and interests of their team members.
They talk about how they work to encourage, support and mentor staff members to give their staff permission to be accountable and take action, affect change and enhance staff investment in their work. This is empowerment.
What we don't often talk about is powerlessness.
Powerlessness is a significant cause of work stress and can be a result of any number of scenarios: being overworked, experiencing bullying or harassment from a boss or colleague, or not being heard when complaints are made, unfair labour practices, inadequate job descriptions, conflict in the workplace or lack of training, can all lead to feelings of powerlessness.
Experiencing unemployment can also lead to significant feelings of powerlessness and this plays a large part in mental health decline in this space.
Feeling like no matter what you do, you are still at the mercy of someone else giving you a go, feeling like every day that ticks by sends you further down the rabbit hole and that the government is punishing your powerlessness to achieve employment, can become overwhelming.
Generational powerlessness experienced through a family history driven by experiences of poverty, educational inaccessibility and cultural influence plant the seed of powerlessness deep within the soil of our psyche. For many of us, lacking a voice and sense of agency is something we are born to and can feel as much a part of our identity as the name we bear.
For others, the seed is planted at school, where we are told "come on, it's not that hard," and we see ourselves slowly disengage with school and work as the years flow.
Nobody gives power to others for free. Holding others in a state of powerlessness is often a bullying tactic designed to maintain control.
But there are also indirect relationships of power that can affect you such as not being selected for a promotion or a new job, experiencing greater compliance requirements to receive welfare payments, being denied entrance to a study program, and so on.
If we can step outside the hurt and angst, even momentarily, we will start to see the problems we are facing more objectively and identify the individual issues more clearly.
However, you don't need others to "empower you" - you have more power within yourself than you realise.
It is easy to cast ourselves in the role of "victim" in the blame game of our own wheel of misfortune.
I've been there. I get it. But when we are focusing our energy on blaming others and railing against the establishment with cries of "It's not fair!" we are telling ourselves that we have no control over our own lives and taking away our own agency in the process and we become our own bully.
There are things beyond our control. Some people are born with the proverbial silver spoon and if we aren't as lucky, that can feel incredibly unfair. And it is. It's hard not to focus on this unfairness, but doing so isn't making anything better - in fact, it has deep consequences emotionally, psychologically and socially.
If we can step outside the hurt and angst, even momentarily, we will start to see the problems we are facing more objectively and identify the individual issues more clearly. Once the specific problems are identified, we can understand them better and begin to plan strategies for addressing them including finding the people we can reach out to, to seek support like planners, social workers, counsellors, and community organisations.
We can then begin to explore our real, inherent value and our strengths, establish healthy boundaries with others, seek to better understand how and why we are feeling how we do and stop judging ourselves, accept what we cannot change and find the courage to step up and change what we can.
Shifting our mindset is the first step towards being open to finding solutions and in doing so, is the first step towards taking back our personal power. And when you do, you'll realise, you had it all along.
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au