Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” That concept is so curious and compelling precisely because it is so counterintuitive.
In theory, power and inadequacy should be opposites. Accordingly, you’d expect that they would bring us to different emotional places: inadequacy to fear and despair and power to confidence and elation.
But the reason that both inadequacy and “power beyond measure” are frightening is that we wind up in the same place: feeling alone. And not just alone in the immediate sense but alone existentially – truly isolated in the world and not connected to others. And worse, when we are powerful beyond measure, we also feel that we are to blame for being alone.
Let’s start with how inadequacy makes us feel alone. We are terrified at times that we will not have the physical, mental, social or economic qualities that will empower us to lead the life that we want. We lament the qualities within us that interfere with our having the things we want in life like a successful and fulfilling career, close friends, loving romantic partner and family, the house of our dreams, and the interests about which we are passionate.
These qualities may be intrapersonal – our mind, body, spirit – or societal factors such as discrimination and disparity that can make us mistakenly perceive that we are inadequate. And the fear of inadequacy can plague us, especially if we do not see how we can change our inadequacy. So, we fear that we are less than and thus will be ignored, mocked or shunned by others. And ultimately, we will be existentially alone to some degree – watching as others connect while we do not.
Why On Earth Would We Be Afraid Of Being “Powerful Beyond Measure?”
In theory, power is what will allow us to be connected to the world and therefore not alone. And we seem to organize our lives around gaining power. Don’t we spend the majority of our time building ourselves up to explore and develop our own power?
We go to school, in theory, to make our minds more powerful. We go to gyms to make our bodies more powerful. We hope to develop connections with friends and colleagues to have a powerful social network, and maybe find a life partner with whom we can start a family. We hope to build a career whereby we can earn enough money to have the financial power to live the life we want.
However, power makes us feel connected only to a point. If we acquire just enough power to track along with everyone else, we will feel less alone. We look at our colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors and feel like we belong.
The common factor in power beyond measure and inadequacy is that they by definition separate us from the pack. Think about it. We are only inadequate if our “adequacy” is not consistent with the adequacy of the majority of people. And we are only powerful beyond measure if our “power” is clearly greater than other people. Suddenly the very thing that we wanted to secure our sense of connection to others is now alienating us. Our lives are different. What we think about and do may be different. And the process by which we approach our life may be different.
For example, two people can have the same job but approach it in entirely different ways. What may be a “job” to some is a passion or mission for others. Thus, two people may seemingly connect but actually feel worlds apart. This possibility occurred to me in a recent conversation with musician and entrepreneur Linda Perry on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast as she was explaining how she often felt after working on major projects.
She described how after curating the Rock and Relief concert to raise money for CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) — a non-profit organization dedicated to crisis response, including providing access to COVID vaccines and testing during the pandemic – she would become consumed with evaluating whether she achieved her philanthropic goals.