Recently, I was asked to define what ’empowerment’ meant to me personally. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how one word can elicit so many emotions, and yet be so difficult to define?
Empowerment. What is it exactly? Webster Online gives it three definitions.
1. to give official authority or legal power to
2. enable to
3. to promote the self-actualization or influence of
Now, those are all very good definitions that impart a clear picture of how to empower. But that’s not what we’re talking about when we think about empowerment. We’re talking about something inspiring: the intangible feeling we get when we hear a story of a homeless man turning himself into a millionaire, or a single young mother graduating from college while working two jobs to pay for daycare and classes.
There are so many other examples of would-be-empowering stories. There’s that 15 year old who discovered an amazingly cheap and reliable way to detect and diagnose Pancreatic Cancer extremely early and another 14 year old girl who ran a campaign to get Seventeen Magazine to stop retouching photos and succeeded. I’ve read about an 18 year old who began a non-profit to get books into the hands of people suffering from trauma, all to fill a desire to give them the same escape from pain she sought when she was diagnosed with a painful syndrome at 10 years old.
These are incredible stories. So why is it for me that when associated with those very types of stories, the word carries such baggage? I’m an ‘average’ stay at home wife and mother, I haven’t had to crawl up out of terrible circumstances.
So, instead of walking away from these stories inspired by their tenacity and empowered to do something myself I end up feeling the exact opposite. And you know what?
There’s something hugely wrong with that.
As a society, as people, we’ve given ourselves this attitude. We’ve been encouraged to look for outside sources to empower us into action, to inspire us to greatness, to push us into being the best person we can be.
Yet, we also shove that comparison down each other’s throats in an effort to make ourselves feel better. And it’s not just others actions. I even find myself saying things that make others feel inadequate sometimes, and I don’t even realize that I’ve done it until later, if at all.
Once when my husband was overseas, I took the dog to the dog park while the kids played at the neighbors. Charlie, my 100 pound German Sheppard Lab mix romped with a fellow vet’s dog while we talked. He was old and grizzled. A man with a long grey beard, deep dimples in his cheeks, and Vietnam Vet hat decorated with pins that I knew held some sentimental value to him.
We talked for a long time and eventually it came up that I was a vet, as well. Eventually it was time to leave and he had one parting question for me.
“How long were you in?” I’d avoided bring this up, feeling that the time I’d served was inadequate compared to his involuntary service during Vietnam.
“Oh, only four years.” I replied. I’ll never forget the look he gave me. It was a combination of sadness, frustration and reproach. I just knew I’d stuck my foot into my mouth.
“Four years, huh?”
“Yeah, I know. But I wanted to get out because I didn’t want a stranger raising the kids if both my husband and I ended up deployed.”
His eyes narrowed a little bit before he replied. “I only served one year. I got hurt then I went home and they never sent me back. That means you’ve been in four times as long as me and you stood up to say you’d do it. Don’t forget that. That means something.”
Afterward we said our goodbyes and he left. It took me a long time before I was ready to walk back to the house. I think it was the first step to realizing that what I was looking for was inside me. I decided to enlist into the military, gave four years to my country and no one can take that from me.
I am awesome and beautiful in my own right. I am smarter than I was yesterday. I have the future in my hands and my accomplishments are not diminished by another person’s feats.
I decided to invest in my children first and enroll in classes for the Spring 2014 semester. I would set a good example and body image for my daughter. I would show my son that no matter what life throws at you and what holds you back you can still do what you want to do. I looked into myself and found my inspiration, I empowered myself.
That’s what we need to start doing. We can look at these amazing stories of what other people do and just appreciate them as amazing stories. Show yourself, and those around you, ways to empower themselves to be great. Inspire them, show them that we’re all remarkable in countless ways and none of us are like the other.
So, what does empowerment mean? I can’t answer that. But I can tell you what empowers me. I feel empowered when I can see how I’ve helped someone. In any way and in any form, whether with an article about budgeting in the quality of life or through inspiring others to write fiction with my own stories; and if I can ignite a little bit of inspiration, empowerment, or self-confidence in someone else? I’m empowered myself.
Check out how others are defining empowerment by clicking on the next page… what do you have to add?
What empowers you?
“What empowers me is seeing the light bulb go on in someone’s head. Whether that’s a student who’s been struggling with a concept or a client who can finally see the meaning in their data, it’s always a great feeling to know I’ve helped someone understand something they didn’t a few minutes ago.” Chris H.
“Having just enough extra after bills to be able to do something sweet/helpful for someone else. Sending out a gift or paying a bill for a friend I know is going through tough times. That feeling of having enough on my own.” Caitlan M. in Austin, TX
“It’s usually a rush of a feeling (sometimes randomly hitting me) that I really am in charge of my life and CAN make things happen for me. It’s an intangible feeling, sort of, but that’s how I describe it. (Getting the new job and house in a weeks’ time helped, too)” Denise Myers
“When Husband says, ‘Have fun. Take your time.'” Linsey Adair in Chinook, MT
“I feel empowered when I’m confident I know the right policy and am handling a situation exactly how I know my boss would want me to.” K. Show in Stephenville, TX
“Working out and inspiring others to take steps towards a healthier and happier them.” Heather Melendez in Cheshire, MA
“Becoming debt free after divorce. Every time another bill disappears, I feel stronger and more in control.” S. McCollum
“When I do something (even small) that I didn’t think I could do.” Erin Whitehead, Editor
“When I find I have talent I never knew was there, and then wondering what else I am capable of that is just not discovered yet.:)” Trish Walker, Stock Model
“Being able to work for my family and be in a career where I love what I do! Your work is your life. And to be able to love what you do while you take care of your family is empowering to me.” Audrey Holmes in Madisonville, TX
“At work I like to know how to do my job to the extent of not needing to ask assistance to complete a task I’m supposed to do. Bites me in the butt though cause it involves learning jobs most don’t bother learning. Then they come to me to then complete things they can’t do… It’s almost like you never wanna be the person to be the most valuable cause you have to work more and for longer hours. But I guess it’s the empowering part that keeps me at it.” Juliet Cotto
“Being a mommy with her daddy being away. It’s hard work but can be done and makes me feel good each night when I go to bed knowing all the hard work that went into that day to make it possible.” Ashley Dodge in Harwich, MA
“When I walk into a room and they quiet down to listen to me. They may be only twelve, or they may be thirty. It’s a heady feeling and it makes me aware of how far I’ve come in my career.” K. Garrett, Teacher
“I’m empowered by my family and by looking at my past achievements.” Molly Adkins in Roseburg, OR