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What great ships are built for

What does is mean to be ‘empowered'? To empower ourselves or others?

Originally it was a legal term that broadened to include a more general definition of enabling or permitting. ‘Empowerment' took on a new meaning during the civil rights movement, signifying a sense of control over our own destinies.

Today it is a buzzword that gets bandied about, by me included, referring to a psychological state. One online dictionary had a whole caveat about this contemporary use of the word, suggesting they disapprove of the “trendy coinage”. But what else so aptly describes the shift from acting from a place of unconscious reaction and fear, to one of strength and personal responsibility?

What else should we call this process of finding our true voice, accessing our authentic self and rediscovering our own power? I consider personal ‘empowerment' to be one of the main objectives of coaching.

To be empowered is to have a sense of control. Not that desperate control we may crave over our circumstances and the actions of others. (That, unfortunately, is only an illusion, and I am continually reminded that seeking it is futile and completely ‘disempowering'). Instead the kind we get from learning to control our responses and being more proactive. That which happens through creating awareness, vision, defining options, making decisions and moving forward with passion.

Empowering goes beyond just opportunities though. It also requires stripping away the layers of disempowering conditioning that have been keeping us small and feeling weak. Some of these layers we even wear like armour, but their effect can end up being more like a straight jacket. Layers which include things like: self criticism and put downs, needing to please others, putting ourselves last, not trusting our inner wisdom, fear of standing out, being different or being ourselves out of fear of rejection … These built up or were passed on to us often inadvertently, through misunderstanding more than malice. And only in peeling back those unhelpful fears and beliefs can we be free to experience our own inner power.

This past weekend, the Business and Professional Women's Association of Bermuda was due to hold their annual Candle-Lighting Ceremony. This is the local chapter of an International organisation aimed at empowering and supporting working women and advancing and championing their rights in the workplace.

The ceremony is one that each group around the world performs and involves lighting a candle to honour fellow members and groups globally connected in the cause, and in recognition of those who have made significant contribution to it.

It strikes me as such a powerfully symbolic act: to light a candle and bring a light into this world, a light we hold for others and safeguard. A light can be a guide, can show the way, allows people to see themselves and others. It banishes darkness and even if very far off in the distance, a mere dot, a light can be a symbol of hope and reassurance that we are not alone.

People too can do this. We become ‘switched on' and ‘light up' when we regain our sense of personal power. I've seen it in clients and individuals connected to their authentic selves. They shine. They literally glow with an inner radiance that is utterly appealing and inspiring and offers to others all that of the metaphoric candle in the night.

I am reminded of the words of Psychologist, post-trauma specialist and poet, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her ‘Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times' entitled “Do not lose heart, we were made for these times.” She writes that although it may seem overwhelming to see all that is wrong in the world, we must resist the temptation just to dwell on that because doing so gets us nowhere. Equally we are not expected to fix the whole world, but just work at the section of it within our reach, doing what we can to help. If enough of us do this, she says, without giving up, we can make dramatic change. She likens us to ships at sea in a storm:

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in the shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy towards others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

When we empower ourselves and let our light shine, we become a beacon to others and as Gandhi did or didn't say (there is some question), we can ‘be the change we want to see in the world'.

In light of it being International Women's day last Saturday, I decided to look to some empowered women for advice on what's worked for them. Reading quotes from CEO's, mothers, humanitarians and the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton, Mother Teresa and more, I found some definite themes among their words of wisdom. Ideas we might all benefit from following:

* Network — empower each other at all levels. Delegate and let others work to their strengths while we work to our own.

* Look after ourselves — strive towards mental, physical and spiritual balance and practice ‘being where we are, when we're there'.

* Know why we're doing it — passion makes things happen

* Practice fearlessness — mistakes happen, take risks, try and keep trying.

* Be a lifelong learner — there is always room to grow and new things to know

* Know your objectives — know what you truly want to achieve and don't waste energy on the rest.

* Get out of our own way — don't let our own limiting beliefs stop us

* Know when enough is enough — if we aren't happy, change it.

* Be Ourselves — what we each bring to the table is unique and important so let it shine.

Dr. Estes ends her letter: “When a great ship is in harbour and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”

The BPW Candle-lighting is now scheduled for April 12th at the documentary screening of, “Girl Rising”. Contact them for more details.

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.

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Published March 11, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 11, 2014 at 9:41 am)

What great ships are built for

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