Empowerment: the new YOLO. It’s a buzzword among all forward-thinking companies and great leaders today in no small way, thanks to us Generation Y-ers who are such sticklers for freedom of decision and choice.
The irony of empowerment is it implies that our parents or employers – the “apparent” power-wielding, decision-makers in our lives – need to give us the power to do the things that we want and make decisions for ourselves. Being allowed freedom is a juxtaposition that I can’t even begin to comprehend.
Instead, empowerment should start from within. You should be able to feel empowered without waiting for the power to do so.
I know this – I own five cats, and if anyone can teach you about being your own person and doing your own thing, it’s our furry felines. Below are five lessons on self-empowerment that I learned from my cats.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want
Some cats have a knack for asking by coming to humans only when they want something – be it food, water or a belly rub – and they usually do it till they get what they want.
It’s not easy to ask. There’s the obvious prospect of rejection, and the discomfort of knowing that you’re causing discomfort.
Letting yourself get what you need is perhaps the most important part of empowering yourself. Far too often, we feel reluctant to wrestle with what we want or, more importantly, what we deserve.
What happens then is that we don’t get the responsibility that we want – or worse, be given the part of the chicken we like least.
Empowerment has a lot to do with harnessing control over your life and being the one who makes decisions.
Independent individuals know not only that you must be able to ask, but also when and from whom to ask.
Get comfortable asking for specific responsibilities at work or during group assignments in university. Besides putting yourself in the position of control, it is also crucial in making sure you have the advantage of doing what you’re good at.
It also shows a lot of initiative, and that you know how to get what you want.
On top of that, asking gives people confidence that you will get the job done because you have already shown the interest to do it.
2. Be able to be alone
Cats are often solitary animals. They are fully capable of seeking affection and company among humans and also other cats, but what truly defines their strength is their ability to hunt and scavenge alone, and spend hours trawling the neighbourhood on their own.
Being able to deal with being alone empowers people in ways that they often underestimate.
Many people, especially extroverts, dread situations where they find themselves alone, and are therefore forced to depend on the presence and acceptance of others.
Feeling comfortable being solitary is a form of independence that allows you to have full control and ownership of your actions and feelings despite the resistance and criticism of others.
Great leaders often find themselves having to stand their ground despite the resistance from everyone around them. Self-empowerment means that you are not afraid of being rejected and being left alone when you make certain necessary and unpopular decisions.
You should also know when to turn around and walk away in situations that are bad for you. Far too many young people, especially women, in physically and emotionally abusive relationships are afraid to leave their partners out of fear of being alone.
Learn to spend some time alone by doing things that you usually must do with someone else: watch a movie, have a nice fancy dinner, or go on a holiday, alone.
You may not always enjoy the experience, but try to look for some points of comfort which you could go back to when forced into a solitary situation the next time.
On top of that, you will feel reinvigorated by your ability to overcome your fear of being alone.
3. Decide for yourself – don’t be a people pleaser
Cat haters love to call our furry friends arrogant and unfriendly. Cat lovers, on the other hand, understand that cats are merely able to put their paw down and do only the things that they deem reasonable.
People who feel empowered can make decisions for themselves. Liberating as that sounds to some, there are many more people out there who are not comfortable with the pressure of making the call.
Asians are especially afraid to come off as too assertive, but there is a difference between always wanting to have control and having the confidence to be the one to make decisions.
An example that we are all far too familiar with:
“Where to eat?”
“I don’t know.” Or, “Anywhere will do.”
Make it a habit to be a decision-maker even in relatively insignificant situations, even on small things like deciding on a restaurant or which cereal to buy at the supermarket.
Going back and forth when making small decisions like these shows a clear indecisiveness and lack of confidence, and will spill over in your work life later on.
Of course you will occasionally get rejected or make mistakes and unpopular decisions. Perhaps the restaurant that you chose served bad food, and all your friends were unhappy with it, or the cereal you picked was too expensive and tasted funny.
It’s most important to keep going and continue letting yourself be the one calling the shots once in a while.
4. Explore and experiment – the world is your playground
Curiosity killed the cat, but she would rather die trying.
Go out there and experience life. Take the time to travel to strange places. Laugh often and meet new people. Take an odd job, even if it means you feel uncomfortable doing it. Say “Yes” more often, and reign in your doubts and reluctance.
This is especially directed to you if you often find yourself defeated by others because they have lived a more exciting and fulfilling life than you. While you married the mundane, they explored the world and are always one step ahead.
If you allow yourself to live and experience, with every one thing that someone else dishes out, you can dish one back, and you have one less reason to feel inferior.
This is not to say that you need to always compete with others. Exploring new territories will often improve your confidence as you discover little pleasures in life. On top of that, you might uncover obscure little talents that make you special.
Many young people underestimate what small and unique experiences can teach them about handling life and the work place. In fact, some employers will see it as an ability to face new challenges and a willingness to throw yourself in new and unfamiliar situations.
Give yourself legitimacy – be proudly able to say “been there, done that”.
5. Don’t worry about the haters
Cats are unfazed by unpopularity. They are comfortable being themselves and don’t need to live up to the social expectations set by their canine counterparts. They are perfectly capable of loving themselves, whether or not people love them too.
This lesson is especially powerful today in the world of social media. The next time you do something fun with your friends and you are about to post that photo up on Instagram, stop yourself.
If you find yourself having to publicise how great your life is, you will also find yourself being defeated when someone else seems to have a greater life than yours.
And the bad news is someone else will always seem to have a greater life than yours.
Give yourself a break from the pressures of other people – let social media and your social circles be a friendly space instead of a playing field where everyone seems to be out there to outlive you.
Empowerment, unlike its unpolished brother Power, is not relative. It does not deplete, and isn’t something you harvest by cutting down the empowered trees of others.
Comparing yourself to the standards and lives of others is not only potentially defeatist, but it also hinders you from enriching your life with the happiness of others.
Having said this, continue to be on Facebook or Instagram if you’re comfortable with it. Real empowerment is to not let it dictate what you do or how you feel.
Sabrina Kamaruddin is part of Leaderonomics Campus team. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org and for more leadership articles, click here!