Why Being Powerful Also Freaks Us Out

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We think of accumulating power as a good thing in life. After all, it's what allows you to move up in your career, doing more interesting and meaningful work — and get paid better. But even if you're not gunning for the top, feeling powerful can have its drawbacks, and much like power itself, they're unevenly distributed.


Researchers from the University of Florida have just published a study on the personal downsides of reaching powerful positions, notably literal physical and emotional pain. The researchers wanted to know what people who stress out so much really get from power, when power creates so much anxiety and exhaustion for overburdened leaders.

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The answer comes down to an odd source: neuroticism, or an extra sensitivity to stress and worry. "Neuroticism is generally associated with negative outcomes like stress, job dissatisfaction, and a focus on failures and frustrations," the study authors write. "However, our results demonstrate that neuroticism can strengthen the indirect effect of power on goal progress and meaningfulness, highlighting that neuroticism can also have positive implications for powerful employees at work."


Stress at the workplace looks different for everyone, and a certain amount of anxiety on the job can help sharpen your performance. But burnout has also become enough of an epidemic that it's literally a diagnosable condition now. So, while your neuroticism can make you better at what you do up to a certain point, be sure you're taking care of yourself, especially as you level up at work. A power pose is one thing, but peace of mind is much more.