Not long ago, BusinessWeek ran a cover story on Women and Power. They featured a series of women that ran the gamut of economic status and job titles. It immediately reminded me of an important lesson I learned from successful women:

Money does not give us power

Power comes from the choices we make. That’s a very important distinction. Not all high earners are powerful women.

In my research, successful women fell into two groups. The Successful High Earners and the Hard-driven High Earners.

The Hard-driven ones are  superwomen on steroids, classic workaholics.  They are NOT powerful women. In fact, they have more in common with underearners than their higher paid peers. They live in deprivation…not necessarily money, but time, joy, freedom, and control of their life. They feel trapped, often by the money itself.

You know what makes Successful High Earners so powerful? Conscious choices based on self awareness. Most of these women actually take time to for self reflection, to figure out what was really important to them.  Their decisions are based, not on fear, but on their priorities, their most cherished values.

One of the most poignant examples was a woman who went to a workshop where she was asked this question: If you were on your deathbed, looking back at your life, what would make you feel happiest and satisfied with how you lived?  From that came a list of her top 5 priorities. Soon after, she was asked to be on the board of a business start-up in China. The meetings would be all expense paid weekends in SF. There was a time she would’ve jumped at the chance, but, she realized, Chinese business wasn’t one of her priorities.

“It would’ve been fun,” she told me. “I would’ve met interesting people, but it would’ve taken me away from my partner, the book I was writing, all those things that are really important.”

Spoken by a truly powerful woman. How about you? If you were on your deathbed, looking back at your life, what would make you feel happiest and satisfied with how you lived? When was the last time you identified your top priorities, your deepest values? More importantly, are you living them now?

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