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Where the Power People Find Power in Their Own Lives
We asked a few notables we look up to tell us where they find power in their own lives.
John Prendergast
John Prendergast

Human rights activist and coauthor of The Enough Moment (Three Rivers)

People often underestimate the power of... A small group of people. In Darfur, Congo, and northern Uganda, mini-movements are saying, "We are going to initiate change."

I felt most powerful when... My team helped negotiate peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000. After two years of war, we finally got them to sign a deal, and the guns literally went silent.

A true sign of power is... Humility. I've worked with President Mandela, and he has a way of being humbled by an issue, studying the problem, and then addressing it with endlessly fresh and innovative ideas.

John Prendergast looks back on a life-changing friendship in Unlikely Brothers
Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich
Consumer advocate and author of Take It from Me (McGraw-Hill)

People often underestimate the power of... Passion. I see it in my own work. I hear, "She's not a doctor; she doesn't know what she's talking about." But I don't need anyone else to give me answers—determination keeps me moving forward.

I felt most powerful when... My mother died in my arms. Death is mysterious and frightening, but I had the strength to help my mother through it. I'm proud of that.

A true sign of power is... Self-assurance. It's a struggle, but that confidence comes from being comfortable with yourself and the decisions you've made in life.
Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand
Author of Seabiscuit (Ballantine) and Unbroken (Random House), due out in November

People often underestimate the power of... Gratitude. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, and when I'm feeling bad I remind myself that even in darkness, I am the recipient of many gifts.

I felt most powerful when... I realized that though my illness left me isolated in my home, I could reach out to the world through my writing.

A true sign of power is... Forgiveness. My next book's subject is Louis Zamperini, a World War II airman. He was captured and enslaved by the Japanese and the victim of the worst atrocities, yet all he feels for this world is joy.
Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert
Author of Eat Pray Love (Penguin) and Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (Viking)

People often underestimate the power of... Waiting a situation out. As I've gotten older, I've noticed there's a great deal of power in a pause. Sometimes we make problems worse by rushing to fix them.

I felt most powerful when... I took control of my life. Five years of self-examination, painful honesty, and prayer got me out of a bad marriage and depression. It's how I became a woman.

A true sign of power is... Positive impact. Power is a neutral energy source, like tofu. It's what you do with it that gives it flavor.
Agnes Gund
Agnes Gund
President emerita of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and chairman of its International Council

People often underestimate the power of... Art as a communicator. It's a language everyone understands. You don't have to speak Russian to appreciate a Vasily Kandinsky painting or speak Japanese to see the beauty in their architecture.

I felt most powerful when... I started Studio in a School in 1977. We fund visual artists who teach in New York City schools that have lost funding. We share the importance of the arts, not only in society but also in building one's self-esteem. And the kids really grasp that: They're confident and proud of themselves and share art with the people in their lives.

A true sign of power is... Influence. My passion is supporting little-known artists who don't have a chance to see their work in galleries or exhibitions. It's gratifying when they get more exposure—and opportunities to show their art—because someone purchased a piece and encouraged people to see it.
Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews
Political commentator, host of MSNBC's Hardball, and author of Life's a Campaign (Random House)

People often underestimate the power of... A simple, straightforward question.

I felt most powerful when... I covered the 2000 presidential recount in Florida with MSNBC. I think we did a great job.

A true sign of power is... Calm dignity.
Judith Thurman
Judith Thurman
New Yorker staff writer and author of Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire (Picador)

People often underestimate the power of... A spontaneous act of kindness. It's the little things—a smile, or offering someone your seat—that express our sense of solidarity with other human beings.

I felt most powerful when... I wrote the last sentence of my first book. Writing is fraught with obstacles, so finishing feels like climbing to a mountaintop and planting your flag.

A true sign of power is... Self-reliance, as in the really important person who answers her own phone. I respect people who don't need trappings of power because they've found it within.
Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl
Former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine and author of Not Becoming My Mother (Penguin)

People often underestimate the power ofF... Family meals. If I could, I'd make every family sit down for dinner. One of the few times people actually pay attention to each other is when they're around a table.

I felt most powerful when... I learned how Gourmet magazine touched people's lives. We'd been covering sustainability, social justice, and bioethics issues, and our readers were paying attention.

A true sign of power is... The ability to change a life. I had an art professor, Milton Cohen, who taught me to find the beauty in every minute of every day. He turned me into a food person.
Elizabeth Lesser
Elizabeth Lesser
Cofounder of the Omega Institute and author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (Villard)

I feel true power when... "I trust my soul's voice. I feel peaceful yet strong, gentle yet courageous."

The most powerful woman I ever met was... "There have been many, like Eve Ensler, Jane Goodall, Oprah, Wangari Maathai, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Pema Chödrön...."

Too often, people confuse power and... "Ego."

I feel least powerful when... "I am stingy, fearful, or unloving."

When I need a power boost... "I place my hand on my heart, take a deep breath, and feel my connection to everyone."

Elizabeth on the importance of nurture
Marion Woodman
Marion Woodman
Jungian analyst

I feel true power when... "I am speaking from my deepest Self."

The most powerful woman I ever met was... "Marie-Louise von Franz, the Jungian psychologist, author, and scholar."

Too often, people confuse power and... "Love. They may think they are in a love relationship with another person, when in reality, they are locked in a power dynamic, wanting to gain control, manipulate, blame, or judge. Power and love are two different things."

I feel least powerful when... "My body is not sustaining my soul."

When I need a power boost... "I pray."

Marion on the power of the feminine
Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem
Writer and feminist activist

I feel true power when... "I hear someone say that anything I did or said or wrote helped to change her or his life for the better."

The most powerful woman I ever met was... "Bella Abzug, who had a clear sense of what could be, and enjoyed battling with anyone who thought it couldn't or shouldn't."

Too often, people confuse power and... "Money for its own sake."

I feel least powerful when... "I'm misunderstood or am watching people be invisible or humiliated."

When I need a power boost... "I sit in a circle with (mostly) women who also are trying to create a world in which everyone matters."

Gloria on what Anita Hill has taught us...in 17 syllables
Stacy Schiff
Stacy Schiff
Pulitzer Prize–winning author, at work on a book about Cleopatra

I feel true power when... "I unravel a problem to my satisfaction, which by definition means the problem was someone else's in the first place."

The most powerful woman I've ever met is... "My teenage daughter, who is afraid of nothing."

Too often, people confuse power and... "Money, title, ambition, and a fancy address."

I feel least powerful when... "I'm in the presence of a new piece of technology—and its operating manual."

When I need a power boost... "I double the caffeine, turn up the music, and head out for a run."

Tag along with Stacy on a rousing, one-of-a-kind power trip.

How to tap into the power in your own life

See O's latest Power List!