The Secret Power of Permission

Simple things carry the most power. Permission lives in every nook and cranny of our lives. The choice to use, accept or share its power is entirely ours. Over a year ago, a teenager I previously knew nothing of, reminded me how simple its power truly is. The boy in question is now busy writing a poem he plans to submit for a local competition.

Permission Given and Received

“Today, I’m John.” He sounded more confident than his handshake. Fourteen years old, he made nervous eye contact with my left ear and swiped a sideways glance at his father who was busy sorting tools just out of earshot. I immediately regretted initially volunteering my name. I too would have loved to have chosen a name for the day. That particular day I felt more like…a Georgina.

John was helping his father fix the fence at the bottom of our property. From a small farm town in NC, they are kind, decent, generous with their stories, and welcoming of city folk who moved to the country for peace and quiet. John is home-schooled and hadn’t spoken to anyone like me before. “Not face to face,” he made sure to clarify.

I assumed he meant he spoke to people like me in his head regularly. I mean, who doesn’t? Or maybe he meant Zoom. Who knows?

Instead of going down the What Do You Mean ‘Anyone Like Me?’ rabbit hole, I simply asked, “So what do you like to read?” Having no idea how best to converse naturally with children, this seemed a question that had potential in any direction. It was a question often asked of me as a child. 

A light that wasn’t there before clicked on behind his eyes and visibly bolted through his body. He grew taller by two inches, the muscles on his teenage face turning into something very close to a smile.

“I read all kinds, ma’am. Whatever I can find. Keep ‘em under my pillow. We’re usually too busy to read, umm…for fun…but I read at night when everyone’s asleep.”

Books! This child read actual books. I liked him. Now I couldn’t help myself, “Do you write too?”

Several nods dislodged and bounced his glasses down his nose. With a one-sided shrug and eyes focused on his shoes, “They say it’s a waste of time…”

I suddenly didn’t care much for “They.” How dare they?!

“No, John.” I wasn’t having it, “It’s not a waste of time. Reading and writing took me from one country to another, from one state to another, and onto every amazing thing I’ve ever done. Anyone who reads and writes is a better person today than they were the day before.”  

He froze, staring directly at my forehead.  

Of course, this was too much. What was I thinking? John didn’t know me. I should have at least kept my soap box to myself until the second meeting. His lips were working up to say something, I panicked because I thought I saw tears. Dear heavens. This child was about to cry, and his father was nowhere to be seen.

He took a long, loud breath in, and… “Thank you, ma’am.”

Direct eye contact, a surprisingly warm voice, with everything but tears pouring from his eyes. It was my turn to freeze, and conversely, feel the middle of my heart melt a little.

He wasn’t just being polite, it was simply that someone understood, someone told him it was ok, it was permission.

The Simple Reminders

Sometimes you need to hear it from someone, most times it’s best if you gift it to yourself. Give yourself permission – to write, to read, to despair, and write and read again. Busy will always be there. So will the laundry, the ladies’ lunch, the family, or the Monday morning meeting. That thing that stops you will stop you again. Permission to recognize it, give it a good shove, and resume at another time is yours to decide.

It could be as little as one minute in the morning. Permit yourself to be thankful for one more day. Hopeful for what it will bring.

The Idea of Permission

Tried-and-true idioms related to permission have been strewn hither and thither as advice to follow, increase relatability, or discuss in leadership meetings. I have partaken in some and eye-rolled others.

In the spirit of steaming ahead with a great idea, with a passion to break down barriers, I fully support the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission” school of thought. Unfortunately, some turn this into a personal vendetta to prove a point and that takes away from the spirit of true adventure. In competitive environments where your abilities are judged by results, it is a fine line to walk where common decency is at odds with a power play.

The less encouraging “give them enough rope,” in my opinion, is not permission at all. Time and again, the expectation of a bad outcome, results in exactly that. Permission disguised in an I-told-you-so opportunity does not offer growth. It halts it, stunts it, and creates mistrust. I have found an open conversation around learning through failure is more supportive and offers choices.

And then, my favorite corporate side-step “It’s ok to fail…as long as it doesn’t cost us anything.”  I’ve laughed in the face of this repeatedly and always will. Failure costs. It costs everyone involved. If you are “ok” with failure, then cost is part of it. In business or in life, I ask you to remember…if you can’t support the cost of failure, don’t say failure is ok. Be truthful – it does more for permission than lies ever can.  

Secret Power

We hear it told, and often tell ourselves, that permission to fail, be loud about success, try something risky, or feel deliriously happy, is essential.  Like most, I push through the negative to find the positive and manifest happy thoughts for amazing results. Permission is truly a wonderful thing.  

Within this well-meaning cycle of permission building, however, it’s important not to overlook the simple, everyday act of giving oneself permission without pushing, manifesting, and generally forcing it to happen.

Simply relishing what you believe your reality to be at this very moment, is restful. Good, bad, and everything in between, acceptance is a form of calm permission that gives you license to be everything, nothing, and exactly right. If we turn permission into another goal we have to achieve, a chant we have to practice, a “must have” on the way to a fulfilled life, we may yet again be punishing ourselves in search of it.

Much like a boy who can’t stop writing amid a life that doesn’t understand it, permission should bring calm. And with it, its secret power.