Wish You Were Here

If you imitate power as it’s always been, you can’t find your own powerful path.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Q: You’re an author 3x over, and so I wanted to ask you a question around that. How do I know if I have enough authority to write a book? My platform is strong and growing. It includes an MBA from an Ivy League. I’ve also founded a startup, and raised VC money. And, I’ve built up a profile that includes getting listed on some notable lists, doing a TEDtalk, and working with some serious name brands. By any measure, I’m accomplished, and well-connected. But I’m trying to figure out if it is enough authority to do my own book. I have big plans for my future and so can’t be seen as flailing or failing. 

Dear Big Plans

I snoozed your note to some indefinite date of “later”many times before writing back. I even thought of sending you my most recent royalty statement to explain.  The publisher, Penguin Random House, doesn’t send me a check you see. Instead, I get a quarterly note that says I owe them money. Which is my long-winded way of saying, it’s beyond hard to even approach this topic you ask, given how “unsuccessful” I am in an industry that I long to be a part of. 

You, too, long for things. You have a deep desire, a fervent hope, a yearning, a passion, a drive to make a difference. And you’re doing everything you can to achieve it. Checking off accomplishment after accomplishment, keeping checklists of what is the next big thing. And breaking down those checklists into tasks. And then tracking those to completion. 

So, Big Plans. I see you. Asking, what else do you need to do, to meet and even exceed expectations? And yet all I can explore with you is how you can be your highest expression.


Do you know about the first meeting I had with Steve Jobs?

I had been invited to give the business division’s update as Steve was returning to Apple circa mid-90’s timeframe. He had been on an exodus, and was returning and all the teams were preparing to share their plans and strategies.  The team I worked with was the only ones who were profitable and growing. And, maybe because my subteam was delivering on the program behind that growth, my boss had decided I should be one to present the business case to continue. I was probably 26 or something at the time. 

So there I was, ready to do my best.

Picture it. Me, standing in front of polished powerpoint slides, in my navy blue Ann Taylor skirt suit, having spent the entire night rehearsing and reviewing so I knew every last word of every argument I needed to showcase. 

Then Jobs walks in with his entourage, wearing an old logoed t-shirt, baggy jeans and flip flops that had needed to be thrown away 10 years prior. (this was before his turtleneck days) 

Behind me was some slide about channel management, and his first words directed at me was this: “F*** the channel, we don’t need the f****** channel.” 

Whhhhat …does one say to that?  

For guidance, I had looked over to those execs I worked with, all in a line with their starched white or blue shirts, paired with khakis. They effectively shrugged at me, equally unclear what to do in this situation. So, I acted as if nothing had happened and played the expected message.

Which landed just about as well as you might imagine.  

The thing is? I knew the answer to what he was asking. The resellers I managed had a passion for the product, which offered not just a first line of defense from competitors but something essential to the product experience that no hardware could do on it’s own. I knew exactly why what we were doing was material to growth and profit. 

But I didn’t say ANY of these truths. 

In my effort to meet “professional” expectations, I couldn’t be my own best expression.


You say you have big plans, lovebug. Can I ask you, what are they? Because you never said. You didn’t mention what you had studied just that you went to Ivy League. Or why your passion led you to found a startup, just that you raised VC money. And now you say you want to write a book, but don’t mention who it will serve.  

I ask because I don’t want you to find yourself not knowing. 

You could end up with all the big titles or big jobs or even a big book deal, but not know your big idea. Belonging without answering these key questions? It means you “arrive”, but find yourself ‘wishing you were here’ as the lyrics go. 

And I wouldn’t want that for you. Or anyone, actually. Each of us desperately wants, even needs, to be seen in this world for who only we are. Onlyness. When we’re unable to be our own expression, to be seen as ourselves, it creates an ache, a pain that terrorizes from the inside. 


Which is why I have to tell you what I know, what no one else tells anyone about getting a seat at the proverbial table. 

The conventional thinking goes like this. do whatever needs to be done to get to that table of power and then change things with your own distinct ideas. Get along to get ahead. Bring a chair if need be. Then bend the world to your will. 

But that denies how power works, how people work. How one’s will…gets worn out. 

That when you make choices to get “there” based on getting authority, that authority is conferred by those in charge…so whatever “authority” you have has been shaped, even defined by them.  If one has gone to an “ivy leagues”, it’s likely they’ve been taught to imitate whiteness. If one has raised money in the startup venture world, it’s likely one has done so by imitating maleness. If you’re playing the rules of the existing game well, you’ve likely adopted all the norms of existing power players. 

This is not necessarily bad, but it is especially true

We live in clarifying times. Where we get to decide if we want to imitate those who have gone before us or invent the power our own ideas require. 

But to make this choice, you must know what to center. 

There is the place of power that is organizational. Where power is often derived from some amount of pedigree, and expertise, and some by the flow of information & the ability to direct money. You advance in power here thru give and take. Most people who want to do big things center this first because they think how they can get ahead without power. But then they wonder why they can not express themselves. (Alas, me in that Steve Jobs meeting.)

There is the place of power that is social status. Life’s lottery determines if you’re “in” or not. You can improve your standing by behaving “acceptably” according to those who are “in”. It can mean we code switch at our own expense

And there is the power of place that is onlyness. Ideas come from that distinct spot in the world where only one stands. You advance this power by building networks around a shared purpose, to enact change. Like Ava Duverney has done

And while these three constructs can overlap, where you start and what you center changes everything. 

Center organizational power or social status as the primary modality, and you express just those ideas others already accept as valid. It means you do the expected but miss being your highest expression. Center onlyness, and you end up inventing the power your ideas require.


What gives you authority, Big PlansEnough authority? You have to first name what you want. And then decide, does that require authority based on other people’s terms, or does it require you to be the author of your own ideas?

This decision sets the course. 

Truth be told, the road of your big idea may never intersect with public fame or big royalty checks. Or it may take its own windy time. You don’t know. Neither do I. I want to root for you to be your highest expression because I know from my many years how much it hurts to not make this central. And this explains why I do the work I do, including writing this column for you, Big Plans. So we can be and in doing so get free. 

Let me know what you decide? 

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