Power: A Woman's Guide to Living and Leading Without Apology

Image of Power: A Woman's Guide to Living and Leading Without Apology
Release Date: 
September 19, 2023
Penguin Life
Reviewed by: 

“it is the vividness and frankness of her personal recollections that helps to lift this book above the usual run of self-help books on women’s empowerment.”

Kemi Nekvapil structures her advice to women on how to live and lead without apology— how to ask for “what they need and want”—around what she sees as the five essential elements of power, or rather POWER; “POWER as Presence, Ownership, Wisdom, Equality and Responsibility.”

This is a framework that the Foreword (by Elizabeth Gilbert) assures us, that Nekvapil completely embodies, and is the framework that she has used in coaching women from a vast range of backgrounds and walks of life.

Nekvapil’s own inspiration for this approach stems from her experience at the Matrimandir “the symbol of the universal mother” established by the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Auroville, West Bengal, India. She explains that “The Mother lived into her power by owning her leadership, by using her gifts of vision, communication, and hope” and it is Nekvapil’s intention that her book does the same; “that it ignites in you a new way to experience and show up in the world.”

Nekvapil narrates quite powerfully how to her when growing up, Power always seemed to belong to someone else—“either a White man in a suit, or a White woman who was blonde and thin.” Whereas now her conviction is that “power is for all of us; it is not for the select few.”

This current book builds upon a previous publication The Gift of Asking that addresses women’s hesitancy to “rock the boat” by insisting on the direction they want to take in a system that is set up for men and “set up for Whiteness.” This is a system that women also have totally internalized as she illustrates from her own and other’s lives.

Her book is designed to help women recognize and own their own power without apology, to stop worrying about “being a good girl” and to contribute to building a better system from the inside out. This building requires a shift from a concept of power as “power over” successfully created and perpetuated by men, as well of course requiring some shifts by men themselves though that is for a different book.

As so frequently, Mary Wollstonecraft does not let us down; “I do not wish women to have power over men; but power over themselves.” Power should be seen not as scarce external force but an abundant resource that everyone can have.

Nekvapil’s own sense of powerlessness—and some of the most persuasive and original passages in the book—is very often to do with race, though race and gender are interconnected. Throughout her childhood she had a pervasive sense of fear that she would be punished for being Black and sent back to Nigeria by her white foster parents. Nekvapil excels in sharing her own personal struggles with the reader to help them better understand themselves, and to lead them “to places of validation, strength, affirmation and possibility.” In fact, it is the vividness and frankness of her personal recollections that helps to lift this book above the usual run of self-help books on women’s empowerment. She intends to reach all women, Black, brown, and white, of all ages, cultures, ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, and physical ability.

The book is structured around interconnected POWER principles with material for each chapter derived from her own lived experience as well as from interaction with admired colleagues and their writings, and from the many women she has mentored. She makes no apology for her loyalty to the OED for clarification of terms and concepts.

The book is designed to be read sequentially from start to finish though she does recognize that some readers in their quest for power may rebel against this approach. Whatever the reading method followed she urges the reader to “go deep inside and see who you have been, who you are and who you are becoming” promising that the book properly used and understood will be transformative.

Sections of the book are devoted first to POWER overall and thereafter to each of its component parts: Presence, Ownership, Wisdom, Equality and Responsibility, though in fact Nekvapil introduces several new lists and sub-categories for each of these interrelated concepts that results in some unnecessary complexity, and repetition that will slow down the most obedient reader trying to work from start to finish; new Powers are named (Heritage, Imprints, Taking Up space, Belief, Agency, Power of the Mirror) that are surely covered elsewhere and don’t need separate billing. Or, perhaps, her original framework is too limiting and limited.

This over-complexity may be the result of sourcing material from different frameworks and different coaching events, or simply result from her infectious exuberance and enthusiasm.

What makes it different from other self-help books on women’s empowerment? Nekvapil’s fluent and engaging writing style carries us along. As does her treatment of race and gender issues in a highly personal and engaging way, the material on internalized racism, including her own, providing the basis for her strongest and most original passages.

It is possible that this material and approach works better in a coaching situation, or rather that the material generated in such situations has not been fully reworked in book form, but women, such as this reviewer, with an innate wariness of self-help books, should conquer their distaste and give it a go. They may be surprised!