Before we can effectively lead ourselves or others, we must first feel worthy of the journey itself. We must develop the confidence and courage to step up and into our own voice and to live our own truths with mindful intention and integrity. Whatever the road behind us, if we are to reach the places we’ve chosen to go, we must learn to live in such a way that our outer lives reflect our inner values. This is the essence of empowerment and heart-based living.
Almost any journey toward empowered living can be broken down into three distinct phases: 1. Self-awareness — that moment when we begin to become aware of ourselves — our dreams, our goals and our (self)limiting thoughts and behaviors that often hold us back; 2. Learning — a formative period of insight and exploration, shaped by mentors, role models and other ways we learn; and 3. Application of tools and wisdom that can help propel us out of our limitations and into the fullness of our own voice.
While there is no substitute for the journey itself, these 16 principles can help propel you forward and serve as a guidepost as you embark on your own journey of empowered living and leadership.
1. You must let go of the need for others’ approval if you want to claim your own power. Every time we depend on others to feed our own self-worth, we rob ourselves of our own power. This perpetuates our dependency on the external, for as we disempower ourselves, we become more needy and desperate for the validation of others. Invariably, this increases the likelihood that we will make poor choices — of partners, bosses, friends, etc.
2. Boundaries are not nice-to-haves; they are must-haves. If you are to live and lead from an empowered place; if you are to quit giving your power away to others, boundaries are essential. Boundaries let others know where you stand — with yourself and with them — exuding self-love and respect as you honor your own needs and values. Without boundaries, you not only create confusion for yourself and others, but open the door to needy, controlling and/or predatory personalities — those who feed themselves by robbing others: of their time, energy, ideas; dignity, innocence or worth.
3. As you begin to claim your own power, your relationships with others will begin to shift. You will gain the respect and support of some, but lose others along the way. Not everyone welcomes change and growth in others, especially those who have come to depend on our neediness for their own sense of worth and value. Don’t fight it. These shifts in relationships are a natural and evolutionary process, and the people you attract into your life from a newfound place of strength will result in healthier, happier, more productive relationships.
4. You must face your fears. When we bury our fears, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow in the process. When we bury our fears, we are essentially telling ourselves, “you can’t handle this,” re-enforcing our own self-limiting beliefs while missing opportunities for growth. Worse still, when left unresolved, we can count on our fears to manifest themselves — in our relationships with people, money, work and health — further undermining our capacity to overcome and build resiliency in our lives. The pain that we fear in facing our problems will not kill us, but holding on to our pain surely will.
5. You must learn to work through conflict. Few people like conflict, myself included. But in our idyllic pursuit of peace, we often forget that peace, courage, self-confidence and esteem do not arise from passive avoidance, but from working through. It comes from courageously facing ourselves and others, seeking as much to understand our triggers from within as the conflict from without. When we avoid conflict, we not only internalize our pain and potentially damage ourselves, but relieve others of their own accountability in the process.
6. Trust your gut. This truth applies as equally to opportunity as it does to people and situations we would rather avoid. Trusting your gut is not the same thing as giving yourself unbridled permission to ‘do whatever feels right’. It is, however, about learning to trust yourself and your instincts, without which we remain hopelessly vulnerable to and dependent on the agendas of others’, whether honorable or not.
7. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Learn what triggers you — your fears, your insecurities, your jealousy, anger or judgment. Once you know what triggers you; what threatens to pull you off-center, you are better equipped to respond proactively instead of reactively, a core element of living an empowered, intentional life. If, for example, a certain personality type consistently wreaks havoc in your life, learn to recognize it early and set boundaries accordingly. If you know in advance that a certain situation leaves you feeling vulnerable or insecure, you can buffer and diffuse your fears by envisioning a positive outcome in advance.
8. Victimhood is not a badge of honor. When you feel powerless in your life, it’s usually because of a painful event or series of events that happened in your past and/or is occurring in your present. Perhaps you feel you are a victim of difficult circumstances outside of your control or have been victimized by others. Life can be hard, tragic and painful, and as much as we may hate to admit it, there’s no escaping this difficult truth. By definition, people are human, and from that place of humanness, people often project their own wounds, hurt and dysfunction onto others, whether consciously or not. Sometimes we become ensnared in their pain. Sometimes we get hurt. Still, when we consistently hold on to our pain; when we wear it on our sleeve as if a badge of honor, it only serves to keep us trapped in our own victimhood.
Consider these words from ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen:
You can find your identity in the damage that’s been done to you. You find your identity in your wounds, in your scars, in the places where you’ve been beat up and you turn them into a medal. We all wear the things we’ve survived with some honor, but the real honor is in also transcending them. -Bruce Springsteen
9. The stories we tell ourselves and others have the power to shape our future. If we are to live fully empowered lives, part of giving up our victimhood badge requires being intentional in our thoughts, words and deeds, for while we are not always in control of what happens to us, we can choose how to wisely respond. Just as our thoughts become words and our words become actions, the stories we tell ourselves and others have the power to shape our future, for better or worse. If we want to change the outcome, we need to change the script. We need to reframe our story, shifting our perspective from victim to victor. Instead of emphasizing what was done to you, focus instead on what you are doing. Instead of being absorbed with yourself, shift your focus on to others. Instead of dwelling on the past, share your vision for a better future.
10. Let it go. Whatever pain you’re holding on to; whatever experiences define your badge of disempowerment, let them go. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. When we hold on to or focus on the pain of the past, it robs us of the capacity to live fully in the present. Hold onto our pain for too long, and we end up allowing it to define us, blocking our true essence and the light of our soul. When we hold on to our fear, we lose our capacity to love. When we hold onto bitterness, we lose our capacity for joy. When we act from a fearful, self-protective place, we lose our capacity for authentic connection with others. Whatever you’re holding onto, give yourself permission to let it go, for by losing our baggage, we create space for new growth.
11. Our circumstances do not have to define us. You are not your circumstances. You are not your poverty, your unemployment, your divorce, your disability or your health issues. While your choices in the present may be influenced by the events of your past, you need not be defined by them. Moreover, while you may not be able to change others’ perceptions and biases, you need not be limited by them, either. Just as significantly, though our culture, profession, ancestry, religion, geography, socio-economic status, education, etc. are all factors that influence our identity, at any given moment, we are each free to step out of the proverbial box of pre-defined limitations and into the total truth of who we are.
12. You must be willing to take a risk. Growth is risky. There are no guarantees. There is no certain, predictable outcome. The only guarantee is that by embracing growth and the inevitable change that accompanies it, you will embark on a journey that will both challenge and ultimately enrich your life beyond measure.
13. There is power in vulnerability. The very act of taking a risk; of extending ourselves beyond the comfort of the familiar and into the unknown requires a willingness to embrace vulnerability. It requires a willingness to let down walls built to protect; to dissolve layers of ego so that we can see beyond our defenses and into the essence of our heart, for it is there that we will find our true strength and power.
14. No pain, no gain. Growth is not only risky, it’s hard work, too, often (usually) accompanied by pain. By its very nature, growth and change require we be willing to leave the comfort of the known for the discomfort of the unknown. Just as in physical exercise, when we’re building our resiliency and courage muscles, there’s a painful tearing down process that must first occur, essential to building a stronger heart and foundation for our lives. There’s no escaping this fact, though it is usually the pain and discomfort of the status quo that ultimately challenges us to confront our deepest fears and surrender to this process.
15. Start with where you are. So often we put off until later what we can do right now. We hold on to the (false) idea that anytime must be better than the present time to confront our problems, face our fears, and embark on this journey of growth. “When this, then that,” we say to ourselves. ‘This’ may range from “when my children are grown” to “when I get that promotion” to “when I recover from my illness.” But putting off the steps we need to take to live our own voice out loud, robs us of both joy in the present and hope for the future.
16. You are enough. Each one of us is unique with our own set of gifts to share with the world. Each one of us has within us the capacity to love and be loved, to serve with humility and to act with compassion. We do not need to wait for someone else to tell us we are enough — good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or lovable enough, for we are each a precious gift of God. Our worth is not found in or measured by the external, but resides within, if only we will dare to uncover the truth of who we are.