How the 4 Expressions of Power Affect Your Wealth and Well-Being

The 4 expressions of power can be the keys to building wealth and well-being in your life, or they can corrupt you through coercion and a lack of forgiveness.

Today, I want to talk about the relationship between the four types of power and money. These four types of power, often referred to as “expressions of power”, represent ways that confidence, ability, relationships, and coercion can be used to achieve a goal.

These forms of power also exist within the context of your growing wealth and freedom as you proceed along your financial independence journey.

Finally, we’ll discuss the uneven power dynamic of forgiveness and the potential of a new approach.

The 4 Expressions of Power

So, what are the four expressions of power?

  1. Power within
  2. Power to
  3. Power with
  4. Power over

These types of power aren’t a linear progression, necessarily—nor are they exclusive. You can gain power within and power over while having limited power with.

As they were originally devised, these powers applied to politics and the power of people within a society. However, I think they also work well within the context of your relationship with money, work, and others.

While these four types of power don’t develop in linear order, necessarily (unlike the steps to financial freedom), they do tend to build on each other.

Let’s look at how each of the expressions of power relates to your wealth and freedom. I’ll also tell you about my own experience developing them and the doors they opened.

1) Power within

Power within is what you build within yourself. It’s your education, practice, and experience. Specifically, it’s the self-confidence you develop by way of attaining the credentials others expect of you, given your position.

For me, I’ve gained power within through earning a college degree, having years of experience in my field, and building a portfolio of well-regarded work.

When it comes to money, I’ve spent many hours reading about investing best practices, tracking my finances, and years weathering losses.

Much of what we write here on TicTocLife is intended to give you a stronger sense of power within by means of education and reinforcement in your money plans.

  1. Understand the differences between cheap vs frugal to know how to spend money effectively
  2. Answer how much money is enough for yourself to know when to quit and stay on the positive side of the fulfillment curve
  3. Determine what personal fulfillment is to you and how it relates to the work you spend your life on

2) Power to

Power to is the freedom that power within enables. It’s the actions you can take through the confidence and knowledge you possess.

Once Jenni reduced the downside risk to a manageable level, she left her salaried position in exchange for an hourly one. For her, the benefits of part-time work were worth the trade-offs of less income and stability.

She gained the power to do this through smart, consistent saving and investing.

As you gain confidence and ability, you can enact change in your life and the world. It’s no longer about learning, but rather about doing.

  1. Automate your finances to free up your time and mental space
  2. Consider turning a hobby into a business in order to create a failsafe and higher potential
  3. Taking risks in life is often necessary, do so when the expected value of the reward is worth the expected cost—and understand the difference

3) Power with

Power with is the leverage you create with your own power by teaming up with others to affect change. Your power is multiplied through collaboration.

I started a digital consulting agency partly as a means to work with others. We could focus on meaningful projects in a way that would let us leverage our individual power to accomplish the parts of projects we were experts in while collaborating with each other to fill in the gaps.

While I couldn’t bring to life all the projects I’ve worked on by myself, I could by leveraging the skills of others to form the whole that was needed.

For you, and for most people, we use the expression of power with in our day-to-day work as labor becomes more and more specialized. There are fewer generalists in the world. The “renaissance person” is a rarity these days.

Collaborate with specialists

Jenni and I have taken a similar approach with this blog, we aim to write what we care and know about. We largely ignoring the personal finance topics that are of less interest to us. There are other great blogs out there we routinely link to within our posts or share on Twitter that covers topics better than we can.

Our aim is to educate our readers by leveraging power with other great writers to cover our gaps.

We also want you to try to do the same by finding opportunities to mentor others with their finances or act as an accountability partner. It’s the way you can turn comparison into your superpower instead of letting it be a thief of joy in your life.

Multiply your output

Part of our mission with TicTocLife is to build a practice of giving away our wealth effectively while also spreading the idea of doing so. Sure, we’re not giving away billions—but over time, and through the multiplication of additional readers and peers doing so, we can give more and help effective causes.

We’re doing this right now by involving our readership in a monthly poll as we select a new cause to donate to each month (for December it’s medical disaster relief organizations!). It’s our reader’s choice donation fund.

Combining power with others is how humanity makes its huge strides. In what ways can you work with others to leverage your power with?

4) Power over

Lastly, power over embodies a classical form of power wielded by rulers and tyrants. It relies on fear through domination.

While a king may be the most easily imaginable form of this expression of power, in reality, it exists in your day-to-day life in much smaller ways.

  • When you approach a bank for a loan, they exhibit power over you to decide whether you’re creditworthy or not
  • If you reach out to your boss to negotiate your pay, they have the power to say no
  • When you apply to a college, the admissions department decides whether you’re good enough for their shcool

Throughout life we deal with these gatekeepers that retain power over us.

Financial dependency

An employer is probably most people’s most common and relatable form of this power dynamic. If you work paycheck to paycheck, you’re severely dependent on your employer continuing the relationship with you.

You’ve got bills to pay and your employer is more than happy to be your only means of paying them.

Learning to live below your means can help reduce financial dependency, though that’s not always an option.

Financial dependency on an employer is likely the most common form of power over an individual experiences day-to-day.

Reducing power over you

I shared my story last week of how I turned my FU money into action when I said “no” as my employer attempted to enforce a greater dependency on them. I have little doubt some clause, somewhere in their HR guidelines supported their position.

But many other Mustachians on the MMM forums thought much worse of this use of power by the company.

Here are a few quotes from readers:

  • “It sounds like it was a test of loyalty to them. F that. If they value your loyalty more than your underlying honesty and commitment to fulfilling your obligations to your past clients, that’s a huge red flag. As a leader, that commitment and integrity is what I would find most valuable, and I would be more likely to keep you around.”
  • “I agree on the loyalty test. […] The only leverage a lot of companies have is this imaginary ‘loyalty to the company’.”
  • “‘Loyalty Tests’ like those are complete BS. Not only you make your people unhappy (which is a sure way to lower loyalty), but you also tend to end up with people in vulnerable positions (as in ‘I can’t afford to go!’), which are prime targets for ‘secret side hustles’, bribery or theft.”
  • “Holding someone back to force loyalty. Not really the person I would want to work for.”

While the situation was certainly a mess, I didn’t hold a grudge about it. I forgave my supervisor and the company, even though they didn’t ask for it.

I didn’t want them to retain power over me simply because I couldn’t accept the situation or was still mad about it long after. Forgiveness can be a key way to cut through unhealthy power dynamics when it’s proactively given. We’ll talk about forgiveness more in a moment.

Power over is certainly the most dangerous of the expressions of power. It’s rare that an entity uses it without also being corrupted by it.

The greatest way to fight back is to leverage the other three types of power to create a more equitable dynamic.

The Sword of Damocles

Not the actual Sword of Damocles: just part of Denmark's "Crown Jewels" in Rosenborg Castle. Still, I wouldn't want it "hanging by a thread" over my head!
Not the actual Sword of Damocles: just part of Denmark’s “Crown Jewels” in Rosenborg Castle. Still, I wouldn’t want it “hanging by a thread” over my head!

No matter which expression of power you seek, or obtain, there will be an allure to use it corruptly.

Will you wield your knowledge to swindle the blind or to lift up the ignorant?

When you have social influence to leverage, will you and your cohort attack the public reputation of others to get what you want, or will use it to highlight inequities and bring light to causes left in the dark?

And when you finally have direct power over others, will you use it to ensure your ongoing position of rule or release your grip when someone else is the better leader?

Ruthless pursuit of power may get you to different expressions of power more quickly. But you’ll rest on that power with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head by a thread as competitors vie for your position just as willing to follow the same corrupt path you have.

Power through fear never truly rests as the oppression must be maintained.

Power through just means is celebrated. It causes leadership to be thrust upon you because you’re the best person to do the job.

Withholding Power and Forgiveness

When you have been wronged, sometimes it’s difficult to forgive the person that has wronged you. Forgiveness can appear to be unacceptable to offer.

Why?

It relinquishes your ability to have power over another person.

Power and your money

If you eat an expensive meal out, your expectations for the meal are heightened—you read the new chef’s creative culinary experiences are to die for.

When the meal shows up with the side missing a particular garnish or the entree overdone, what is your response?

Is it the same as if your partner cooked it? Or if you bought a similar meal from McDonalds?

You might chalk up either of these to a simple oversight, but with more money involved in your fancy meal out—how do you respond?

Do you rage and call a member of the staff over? Maybe you complain loudly about the chef so other patrons can overhear?

Do you push until your meal is comped?

How do you wield the power over the establishment because of the money you will spend?

Power and other’s spending

When your partner comes to you with a story about how they spent too much money on a meaningless fashion accessory, busting your monthly budget, forgiveness isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind.

You demand details and an explanation. Why did they buy that? Were they not thinking about what it would mean?

How do you wield power over those you care about because of their spending choices?

Forgiveness is the way

I know I’ve been in each of these situations and responded in ways I’m shameful of.

“I want it done right and off the bill.”

“Why would you waste your money on that?”

It comes from a sense of anger and a desire to make things right, from my point of view, through the use of the power I have in the moment.

But you know what else it does? It makes me brood, it takes away from my life. While the meal should be served correctly, and we should make healthy spending decisions, that doesn’t mean perfection will always come.

And the best way to get past the situation is through forgiveness, to release the power over someone else you have.

Forgiveness is freeing, and not only for the recipient. There’s not enough time in life to be angry.

Power to hold someone down

Withholding forgiveness in public, in groups, magnifies the power one has over someone else.

I want to share part of a podcast (No Dumb Questions) that inspired this whole post.

About a minute of this YouTube clip covers it:

“No Dumb Questions” episode 89 on “Anger and Forgiveness” at 59:58

I’ll paraphrase:

If a group can agree that a person has done something wrong and shun them, they hold power over them. As long as the group doesn’t forgive them, they can continue to shun them for their failure and keep them down.

The group never has to evaluate what’s wrong with themselves.

Your Power

I’d like to continue with some of the ideas from that podcast episode and mix them with power. Let’s talk about a more constructive approach to forgiveness and bring the expressions of power full circle.

We’re taught as kids to immediately tell someone that you’re sorry.

And what’s the expected response?

“I forgive you.”

The point of the lesson is to teach kids about forgiveness. But it seems like we’re doing it by teaching them to hold forgiveness as a reward given to someone they have power over once they’ve acknowledged their weaker position.

What if forgiveness was taught in the opposite way?

Rather than waiting to receive an apology, what if we offered forgiveness to the offending party first?

Now the offended party doesn’t have to wait for an apology (which may never be given), rather, they now have power within the situation.

We’ve shifted the relationship from an unhealthy dynamic of power over others to one which empowers the individual to find forgiveness and disarm the situation themselves.

Your path to financial independence will have you gaining and losing different expressions of power throughout. It’s a road less traveled, one that’ll certainly be filled with difficult decisions and moments of failure.

People will do you wrong. Will you offer forgiveness?

Eventually, you’ll have what others want. How will you use your power over them?


Which of the Expressions of Power do you think have helped you in your path to financial independence the most?
What do you think about forgiveness and relinquishing your power over others?

If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing via email to receive our infrequent newsletter about new posts! Want to try before you buy get for free? Read the Newsletter Archive!

By Chris

Chris began his financial independence pursuit in 2007 as he learned basic personal finance from Get Rich Slowly as an aspiring web designer and novice investor. After several missteps, he learned the secrets of financial independence and began his pursuit of freedom.

He reached financial independence in 2018 with $1.2M and two businesses. He began the process of transitioning to early retirement in 2020.

Learn more: Meet Chris.

12 replies on “How the 4 Expressions of Power Affect Your Wealth and Well-Being”

Very interesting points on the power of forgiveness–or the lack thereof! Love that about ignoring blogs on topics of less interest to you. There almost feels like an obligation as a personal finance blog to provide content on every topic, but the reality is that it has probably already been covered by someone. Just pass along a link and stick to what you want to talk about!

Forgiveness is underappreciated. Heh, I suppose it makes sense that it would be! 🙂

Yep—there’s a desire for new points of view out there or your own personal spin on a topic… but when it comes to directly answering a question, lots of people have done a great job out in the personal finance world. No need to reinvent the wheel. But there’s always room for folks to come along with a very personal and opinionated take on something as old as time (see Mr. Money Mustache).

My career went from summer intern to the top of the org chart over time. I had hundreds of people I was responsible for, and I never liked having power over them. I did not entirely trust myself to not take advantage of my position. It is a corrupting thing even if you try very hard to lead through serving, you still know that if push comes to shove you hold the power to get your own way. It feels like a very unfair advantage and it changes your relationships with your former peers.

It’s a weird thing. I’m quite the capitalist and I understand the needs of capital and labor within the context of society, at least from a small business POV. I don’t feel bad to be paid well for my efforts, nor do I feel the need to be too charitable when paying for other labor. I pay well for good work and that should be sufficient.

But it feels weird when, as you said, you have clear power over another person within the context of a business situation. If you know they don’t have many other options to earn wages, and they need those wages, it becomes easy to exhibit control over them. Hopefully you don’t do so unfairly. But the pressure of capitalism is to maximize profits, which means there’s little reason to be charitable with salary increases or hefty payouts when there’s little risk to losing labor.

It’s a little confounding—and sometimes difficult to maintain your integrity, especially in so far as how you judge yourself.

I like your take on the power of forgiveness: “What if forgiveness was taught in the opposite way?” It would make for a much better society. It would give a sense of power to those who are suppressed. Speaking up in any situation really lends itself to being a position of power. Silence can speak volumes.

Power has a way of revealing one’s character, whether you are the one wielding it or facing it. I think a good example has been how fast this work market has flipped from an employee-driven one to an employer’s market. Just a few months ago, the worker held all the cards. It was so easy to leave a company for a few more dollars. Company’s bent over backward to keep workers happy. Now the power has shifted back to the company. All those workers who’ve burnt bridges during the good times are now likely regretting limiting their options by quitting or giving ultimatums. Now it’s the employer’s turn to be choosy. I guess what I’m saying is that the tables can turn quickly, we should let that humble us when gifted any form of power.

Good one, Chris.

Speaking up also helps you create…well, yourself!

It’s part of establishing yourself: what you’ll fight for, your integrity, your values.

Then, with the power you gain, you’ll be more likely to use it justly.

And indeed, it’s wild to see how quickly things have turned on labor and capital. Sigh.

“I forgave my supervisor and the company, even though they didn’t ask for it.”

I agree with your take on forgiveness. I think that has been the most powerful one for me in my life. I don’t want to imagine who I’d be if I had not lived by that.

Power is a tricky thing. As Noel said, it really reveals your true character.

I appreciate the post. It was a good change of pace to what I have been reading into lately. A lot bullet points 3 & 4 would improve if people treated each other as they want to be treated themselves (the golden rule).

3. Power With – In collaboration efforts, if you value the people that you are working with and not just using them to get results, then long term relationships can form. These relationships are some of the best things that you can have in life.

4. Power Over – If you are in a position of power, then the only path of integrity is to treat people as you would want to be treated.

If you are not in a position of power when it comes to your own life, how do you change that? My wife and I got married and had kids pretty young. We started out with no money and paycheck to paycheck. I felt trapped by my employer for years (and don’t get me wrong, they were good to us but we were still trapped). It wasn’t until we learned about FI that we started to realize that there was a way to put the power back in our hands and control our future.

Getting a little off track here, but Blogs/podcasts and other free tools can help people understand their options and how to take power over their own circumstances. “Power within” can be expanded by the knowledge so that you have the “power to” take over your own life.

I like it. Thanks for the post

Hey Chris! Glad you found it enjoyable if a little different or rather adjacent to personal finance. I try to stay in the FIRE lane here, but sometimes it’s fun (if not necessary) to diverge. I think we’ll go on little side adventures like this now and again.

As far as your addendums—you’re absolutely right. Those relationships you can build from achieving meaningful work together, in a collaborative way that benefits both parties, are terrific. They’re the long term professional relationships that come about from respect. And they’re the person you can rely on in the future when it comes to anything work-related.

Indeed, if only we could all treat each other as we’d wish to be treated given the same power dynamic situation.

Cheers!

O man, I totally identify with the high priced meal and the luxury gift comment…”it makes me brood.” I rarely do that anymore and am glad you used the brood word! Life is too short, yet on the other hand am I too passive?

To an extent, if passivity lets you be a more contented person, able to focus on what you care about rather than walking through life bothered… Perhaps it’s worth it.

Of course, there are limits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *