Real power can be measured by influence. Period. Ask Taylor Swift.
I always suspected I had it, but I got definitive proof right before lunch on a sunny Friday in Miami in Mrs. Weprin’s third grade classroom when I was all of eight years old. In that moment, I realized how powerful I was, and I have never forgotten how that felt. Ever. It was intoxicating, heady, addictive.
The actual details of the event revolved around trying to convince my entire class to do some sort of activity that they had decided they did not want to do (it may have involved glue), and for some reason, I insisted on taking the contrarian view. I took to my task with spirited zealotry. I was a diminutive Perry Mason making my closing argument and I remember my classmates staring at me as if I was an alien—a smart alien, thank you very much. They sat there rapt by my eloquence (at least that’s what it looked like to me), as if what I said actually mattered. And just like that, I swayed the popular opinion and we ended up doing whatever the activity was I wanted to do. That, friends, is how power—real power—works and I had it in spades. Oh yeah I did.
Over the next decade of my adolescence, I’d occasionally trot out my “power” to keep my skills sharp and I’d invariably change my siblings’ or friends’ minds about something seemingly trivial (what movie to see, what restaurant to go to) and I’d keep my satisfaction to myself for I knew what I had was a rare gift—the gift to change people’s minds.
Before you think I’d gone completely power hungry and spun into madness, my first year at Tulane University righted any notions I had of my omniscient power when I encountered 3,000 or so other powerful beings who weren’t in the business of being told what to think, certainly not by a precocious fast-talking teenager. I reconsidered my options and realized if I stayed the course and continued being editor in chief of every media entity I worked at, I would always have “power,” for the essence of the editor’s role is to lead and influence. And, right then, I knew I had found my calling. I wanted to affect change, impact the conversation and I was going to do it with the written word. Now that was an idea I could get behind. And by all accounts, it has worked out pretty great for me. I have always had a platform.
So, yes, in my own little sphere of influence and social interactions, I do hold some sway, some juice to lead or impact discussions on myriad topics, not the least of which involve US politics, my beloved Boston Red Sox or Miami Dolphins and, most especially, whatever is currently spinning the pop cultural zeitgeist. I do have a lot of opinions—educated people often do—but what I also have now that I didn’t as a child, is perspective and self-awareness. In short, I know when to shut the hell up. Trust me; I’m grateful for that particular skill set. It comes in handy more often than one would imagine. I didn’t get here on looks alone. (LOL)
But when the topic turns to power—who has it, who wants it—my thoughts always turn to influence. In today’s complicated, right-now world that is firing on all cylinders and coming at us in a relentless treadmill of hyperlinked/YouTubed/Instagrammed/tweeted data entry points, influence is the key to power. If a billionaire sits in his mansion in the Hamptons and counts his money and lives a discrete life or if a globally famous movie star settles down with her husband and kids in Santa Fe and lives quietly, for the purposes of “power,” they don’t have it—one’s just a rich dude, the other is an actress people like. Now, if that billionaire is Bill Gates who is quite literally using his status as world’s richest person for the betterment of the planet or the actress is Meryl Streep who has made it her mission to make her voice heard on many topics including full and equal rights for women and girls, those two have influence, those two have power. Real power.
As we head straight for the jaws of another mind-numbing year-and-a-half long relentless cycle of what is known in America as “electing the next president,” watch how Hillary Clinton carries herself in relation to the clown car of Republicans hoping to oppose her in the general election. People with real power, real influence tend to carry that responsibility lightly, effortlessly—they just have it. People who are in constant need of reminding us of their supposed power, of showing us how much influence they have (Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin come to mind), trip over the weight of their nonsense. There is a difference, folks, and it’s as clear as day.
I often think of that fast-talking kid in Mrs. Weprin’s third grade class and my first blush of realization that not only do words matter, but also words that came from me could matter. Luckily, I always use my so-called gift for good, but I will be very interested to see how others who share my superpower use their gifts this campaign season. After all, power without perspective or self-awareness looks an awful lot like Donald Trump. And, as we all know, The Donald is a curious case study all unto himself.
Trust me, nothing is better than witnessing true power wrapped in humility and love. Think Oprah, Dalai Lama and, yes, Taylor Swift. Real power is kind. Today, it’s not about the money—that’s so 2003. Want to know a better gauge of power in 2015: How many Instagram followers do you have? At 10K and rising, I may not have Kim Kardashian numbers, but the game’s not over yet.