When I speak to organizations or conferences, I often ask the question “When did you know you had the power to_____.” Each person fills in the blank for herself. Then we discuss the answers with one another. Try it, and talk about it with your friend, sister, mother, or whoever you can requisition.
So after my keynote speech for the New Directions Career Center in Columbus OH (a fantastic organization that helps low income women gain economic self-sufficiency), I had one of those joyful moments. Why?
Read this post by Rae Reed in The Loud Empresses blog, Living Life OutLoud and you’ll see some young women who are embracing their power TO.
I’ll be honest. I had no freaking idea what to expect. Young, wearing jeans and a V-neck, I sat amongst women with ears perked, eagerly anticipating the night’s featured speaker.
It wasn’t long before I figured out why. Wisdom poured from her lips like my brain begged for more.
This was a woman who became an activist during the civil rights movement and the second-wave of feminism, all while attending college and raising three children. Gloria reminded me that “boys grow up in a world thinking its their oyster and never questioning whether they could run for office” and that women, on the other hand, could be totally immersed with passion in politics, but first should learn more, take classes, etc, and while the girl is busy gaining knowledge, the boy is in an leadership position without it. “Progress from here depends on thinking about power.”
And that is exactly what I did.
During Gloria’s speech, she presented the audience with a question. “When did you know you had the power to_______,” and challenged us to reveal those answers to a person sitting next to us.
My mother, who sat beside me, chose to answer the question “when did you know you had the power to be funny?” And said it was thanks to a recent public speaking class in which she participated, and recognized the joy in making people laugh. The question I chose “when did you know you had the power to make decisions?” This power came from the recent decision to end an 8-year relationship that wasn’t making me happy anymore.
Intrigued by this exercise, I asked many of the strong women I know this same question. The answers amazed me, and now I’ll share them with you.
I was12. I was again 14 and again 16.
Again at 19.
I believed I have the power to be stronger than my mother. That sounds terrible; I know. But it’s not like that. I watched my mother get cheated on, verbally and physically abused, mentally damaged, stalked, threatened and financially ruined from the men of her past. On so many occasions of witnessing this weakness, letting him back in our home night after night, I promised myself I would never let anyone, man or woman, treat me like she let others treat her. I had the power.
When I was 19 she was diagnosed with cancer. But not only was she going through the terrors of surgery and chemotherapy, she was also going through a sickening divorce. “God gave you cancer for a reason, you evil bitch!” He would scream right after a “You deserve to die!” and before a “You ruined my life with your cancer!” It was then I realized that my mother was stronger than me. I wanted to be strong because I couldn’t mentally take being the weaker person. But she could; she could let them do whatever they needed to express their anger. She would retreat, put it in a little box in her heart and move on. Oppositely, I am a fighter and although we fight our battles in different ways, my mom is a fighter too. Always holding on just a moment longer to get through what she needs to.
I am 21. Mom is cancer-free and in a very happy relationship. Now we are powerful women together.
Robbie Banks, Young Professionals Manager, Columbus Chamber of Commerce
“When did I know I had the power to influence change?”
When someone that I respected told me.
Ingrid Norman, Mother of one; Part-time Dog Groomer, All About the Dogs
“When did I know I had the power to be a mother?”
Twice. First when that 7lbs, 2oz, 21 inch baby came out of me. And again when I left to go back to work for the first time after having her.
Nicole Wallace, Mother of one; Bartender and Part-time Manager, B.C. Rooster’s
“When did I know I had the power to be a stronger woman?”
After I had my daughter, Alyssa, I couldn’t allow people to walk on me anymore. I have to be her example as she grows up.
Kerri Bergeron, Full-Time Groomer, All About the Dogs
“When did I know I had the power to be successful?”
Two days after I turned sixteen, I got my first job. I know I can achieve all of life’s goals, like having a house, being a wife and mother, owning a business, and enjoying things with my family.
Emily Shortridge, Mother of two
“When did I know I had the power to overcome?”
I figured out I had the power to overcome life losses, like my mom and dad. When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I hadn’t realized how I had moved on in a sense, and was proud to know that, ‘hey, I can overcome anything.’ And besides, women are overcoming everything now-a-days. When it comes to things like job loss, they reinvent themselves and go after another.
It was when I knew I had to face my fears of rejection and loneliness. But with finally being able to be confident in myself and the people I trust, I was able to pull it through.
Britany Byers, Marketing Coordinator, Champion Real Estate Services
“When did I know I had the power to be myself?”
It was my freshman year of college when I realized I wanted to be surrounded by people who loved me for me, and that it wasn’t necessary to waste my time to persuading others to like me because I had plenty of family and friends who supported me.
Jonida Bega, Student, The Ohio State University
“When did I know I had the power to alter my perception of myself?”
When I turned 21, I learned it’s better to have an honest enemy than a fake friend. In that respect, I took what was said, evaluated it, then made necessary changes.
Britnee Bryant, Loan Underwriter; Freelance DJ/MC & Designer
“When did I know I had the power to…”
I’ve always known I’ve had the power. Some people just know.
Lu Sky, Personal Trainer, Urban Active Fitness
“When did I know I had the power to be happy?”
It might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I realized I had the power to be happy. I was going through some rough times, I had just left my husband of almost 8 years and divorce was imminent. It’s been over a year since I walked out of our house, and getting ‘here’ hasn’t been easy. Turns out, I was married to someone who I shouldn’t even have been friends with. We got married young and it seemed like his purpose in life was to control, manipulate, abuse, and make me as miserable as he could. But It wasn’t until after I left, that I realized I was the one letting him treat me that way.
Many people wonder why I say that, and why I stayed as long as I did. I used to wonder that too. But in my self reflection, or soul searching if you will, I’ve realized that although some want to look at it as ‘time wasted,’ its given me an entirely new outlook on life, & how I live it. For that, I’m extremely thankful. I refuse to see it as time wasted because now I wake up everyday and realize that I’m the ONLY person that dictates if I’m going to be happy. I know everyone has heard that idea/concept before, because I had many times, but until you experience it, it doesn’t really “click.” You never realize just how true that concept is.
When I wake up in the morning, I make the decision that I am going to be happy. Yes, circumstances might happen with work, family, friends, etc, that are upsetting, but how I decide to deal with them is my decision. I look at life now in a completely different light. You cant go through life letting it dictate your outlook. Sometimes things happen that will get you down, but whether you stay down is all up to you. Only you.
Life isn’t always ideal, financially, emotionally, romantically, etc. Separating was a definite struggle, on many different levels. But the simple truth, is that life will never be perfect, it will never be exactly what you want. The trick is to stop fighting, accept that, and learn to work it to your advantage. Go with the flow, teach yourself to be genuinely happy. Make the decision to learn and grow from every experience. You have the power to be happy, make sure you use it! Refuse to give it to anyone, or anything else. The decision is yours.
So, now, I raise that challenge to you, my fellow Loud Empresses, friends, and readers.
When did you know you had the power to________?