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What Does Empowerment Mean to You?

This month, I had the opportunity to co-lead a Women’s Empowerment group at a local high school. I stood up next to my mom and together, we guided a thought-provoking conversation between 30 young women who met us with wide eyes and just the faintest bit of discernment.

While preparing for the conversation, I found myself viewing empowerment through two different lenses: personal and professional. This dichotomous way of thinking is something we’re hard-wired to do as humans. We often decouple our thoughts, feelings, language and behaviors to best serve us in any given situation.

How often have we felt something but not said it? How many times have we done something because we thought we were supposed to do it? We learn to operate this way and to view things as this or that – feel or think, speak or act, step into empowerment personally or professionally. This polarization creates an uncomfortable feeling of incongruency which ironically, is pretty disempowering.

Noticing when and why these incongruencies creep up is powerful in and of itself. Feeling empowered, like anything else, takes awareness and effort. You don’t just wake up one day feeling suddenly empowered – especially if you’re a high school student. Our thoughts, feelings, language and behaviors can either move us toward a state of empowerment or disempowerment, and choosing to be accountable for these things can be a total game changer.

Choosing accountability in this way isn’t always easy and can be particularly tricky for women in the workplace. Qualities that portray an empowered man in this context, like assertiveness or a propensity for risk-taking, may not portray a woman in the same light. Qualities that women are more likely to demonstrate, like empathy and vulnerability, can be huge assets in the workplace but are not widely recognized as powerful qualities within this context.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is how you define empowerment for yourself. For me, the principles of courage, perseverance, and hard work directly play into my state of empowerment. Here are some questions that can help bring your personal definition into focus:

  • How does empowerment feel to you?

  • What have you done that has been empowering?

  • What does disempowerment feel like?

  • What have you experienced that makes you feel disempowered?

  • What can you do to become empowered?

We asked these questions to each participant of the Women’s Empowerment group. Their answers were surprisingly varied, beautifully honest, and much more dynamic than I was expecting. While each story told was different, the underlying sentiment was the same. No matter how you define empowerment for yourself, learning to work mindfully with feelings of incongruency is a step in the right direction.

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