Spider-Man: Strength vs Power

Spider-Man doesn’t take his muscles too seriously, but he knows his strength (Photo: michele cat)

Strength. Power. As a man, these are both things we all desire in some form or another. I don’t think any man with decent self-esteem would say he’d love to “get down on his knees, clasp his hands above his head, look towards the heavens and beg to be weak and powerless”. That’s actually a pretty amusing picture – it’s even better if you replace the guy with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anyways…

Wait – actually, that’s perfect. Really. Often times, when I think of strength, I think of a big man with big muscles. How about you? What comes to mind when you read or hear these two words?

Here’s a few that seem like they’d be pretty common to most people:

  • big muscles
  • authority
  • electricity
  • mathematical exponents
  • ability to do something
  • weightlifting

Two words, so many meanings – and everyone interprets them differently. So now that you’re well aware of how many meanings these words can bring up, let’s discuss these two concepts in a way (and a context) you’ve probably never thought about before:

What is strength? What is power?

Normally, when defining these words, I’d bring up the good ‘ol Dictionary.app or Wikipedia, but this time I’m going to do things a little bit backwards. You should already have an idea of what these words mean to you, so let’s see if we can have a little fun with their meanings, shall we?

Tony Schwartz talks about energy, capacity, and how to build it. It inspired me to take a bit different perspective on power and strength, and how they actually relate. Many people get sloppy with language and often just think they’re synonyms – but I disagree. I think they relate to each other in a very specific and important ways, and cutting through all the crap, it comes down to this:

Strength is the capacity of power.

Think about it this way: you work out by building your muscles and lifting more weights, making you stronger, which allows you to lift more weights because you have more power stored up to exert on it. By becoming stronger, your capacity of power (or the amount of potential power you have) increases, allowing you to lift more weight.

“Knowledge isn’t power; applied knowledge is power.”

Let’s take another example that doesn’t deal with physical power: learning. The more mental “exercising” you do by studying, or wisdom you gain by experience, the more potential you have of solving a problem in the future. The “strength” is how smart you are, and the “power” is the ability to solve a problem.

The saying goes “knowledge isn’t power; applied knowledge is power”. That’s a good one to keep in mind if you have a habit of learning lots of things, but not actually doing anything with it. If you remember way back in physics class (or earlier today if you’re reading this at NASA or Boeing), this may sound very similar to the concepts of potential and kinetic energy. If not, click here and here for a refresher on each respectively (reading just the overview is sufficient).

So, how specifically does potential and kinetic energy apply here? Well let’s ignore the energy part and stick with the general concepts. Strength (capacity) is all potential – just because you’re capable, doesn’t mean you currently are. Power, on the other hand, is both. It only becomes kinetic when it’s in motion; when the power is actually being applied and used.

Okay, now that science class is over, do you remember when we first defined strength and power? Good, because we’re going to break it down on the metaphorical definition-dancefloor just one more time. Assuming strength is the measurement of capacity for power, and power is the ability to do something, then it all boils down to…

The capacity of ability.

(Take a moment to just zen out on this phrase for a few minutes …deep eh?)

But seriously, in it’s most basic form, it can be defined as the capacity of ability. The stronger your muscles get, the more capacity they have to use that power in physical abilities, such as sports. The stronger your mind gets, the more powerful it is, and the more it’s able to think about more abstract ideas (like this) and solve complex problems. The larger your capacity to be masculine, the more you’re able to perform as a man.

Whew. So as you’re there reading this, grasping these concepts, maybe you’re starting to see things differently now, and are really excited for your new learnings …but you’re probably also wondering what the hell this has to do with anything. Well, I’m so glad you asked, because as much as I like love theory, I also realize that it’s useless until it can be practically applied and used…

But seriously, in it’s most basic form, it can be defined as the capacity of ability.

Useless until used…

Strength, power…

Potential, kinetic…

Capacity, ability…

Applied knowledge is power…

…are you catching on yet?

If not, I encourage you to read through that last paragraph and find the learning – it’s very, *ahem*, powerful. Once you understand this now, and actually go out and do something and use this knowledge, I guarantee your potential for success will increase in capacity, allowing you to become the strong, powerful man you know you have the ability to be.

Hopefully you got it that time.

Strength and power are incredible versatile words and mean many things in various contexts, and this was by no means an ultimate, magical definition. If anything, this was an opportunity to become aware that words can mean anything to anyone, and that a change of definition can change your perception.

Oh, and maybe even a realization that you should start keep taking action. I encourage you to take a look at your own abilities and potentials, and discover how you can strengthen and increase your own capacity for success.

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