Are You Waiting To Be Empowered?

Some people seem to be pretty good at actually enhancing the odds of something bad happening to them. For this post, let's turn our attention to what you could do to enhance the odds of something good happening instead.
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Over these many months, we have looked at improving the quality of life from several perspectives. Some people seem bent on complaining their way to a better life, others seem to have chosen the angry route, while still others seem to have been dealt a bad hand and made things even worse by victimizing their own selves.

Many of you have weighed in on these various topics, some sharing examples of how you have overcome circumstances as far ranging as lost jobs and homes to rape and other forms of violence. Others have jumped on the blame game bandwagon, pointing to the obvious targets out there ranging from bankers to Bush, but all with the same central theme that someone else holds the power.

For most of us walking around loose, things not only have happened to us, but there will likely be more downstream. Some people seem to be pretty good at actually enhancing the odds of something bad happening to them. For this post, let's turn our attention to what you could do to enhance the odds of something good happening instead.

One of my favorite and most important lessons in life may be important for you as well: it's not what happens to you but how you respond that really matters. The world is full of stories about individuals who have endured all manner of tragedy and yet have managed to create a positive life experience nonetheless.

We also have a huge number of stories about people who have endured tragedy of one kind or another and have then given up. Understandable, I suppose, but not that helpful.

I know from my own experience how painfully easy it can be to simply give up and blame life, circumstances and other people for my misfortunes. The bad thing about finding others to blame is that there almost are others to blame. Only, that's not the worst thing - the worst thing is that even if someone else is culpable, blaming them won't change my circumstances.

If Things Suck, What Can You Do?

One of the biggest problems coming out of the self-help world has been the propensity of those who don't really know much to twist valuable and important lessons into clearly wrong-headed advice.

Positive thinking comes to mind: telling yourself positive stories about negative situations isn't going to help ("jeez, how great - I lost my job, now I can be more free") is very different from recognizing what's so (lost job) and holding a positive focus on what you can do about it.

One of the notions that seem to have been twisted badly in my estimation is the one of empowerment. All kinds of self-proclaimed coaches, consultants and trainers purport to offer "empowerment" help of one kind or another.

Don't get me wrong here - I am a big supporter of empowerment. But I can't empower you. Nor can anyone else. Empowerment is something you do to yourself.

Think about this for a moment: if I'm offering to empower you, in what condition must you already exist before empowerment could matter? That's right, powerless. And if whatever I offer is "empowering," then where does the power or empowerment come from? Right again - that would mean that I am the one holding the power and generously offering to share some with you.

While I recognize the virtue behind the thinking of many who work to empower others, I also think that kind of approach to empowerment is false from top to bottom.

If it's true that life has less to do with what happens to you and more to do with how you respond, then who is controlling or choosing how you respond?

Self Empowerment Is The Only Empowerment That Matters.

If you would like to play the self empowerment game, perhaps a good place to start would be to ask yourself a couple of simple questions:

  1. What personal issues, circumstances or life experiences would you like to see changed?
  2. What could you do to make some measure of difference that requires no one's permission other than your own?
  3. What could you do to make some measure of difference that requires someone else's permission, approval, cooperation or support? Whose?

You might actually try putting together some kind of written response to these three questions, and then keep them in three different places (separate documents, separate pieces of paper, separate files, etc).

My advice would then be to work on #2 before even thinking about tackling #3. If you were to start working on #2, I'm willing to bet that you will find there are a number of actions you can take right now (today, this week, this month) that would begin to make some kind of positive difference in your life.

It doesn't have to be much to get started, just something that is within your own power to choose and execute. If you do make a couple of changes, no matter how small, you may then begin to discover a bit more "power" than you previously recognized and those small steps may put you on a path where you can actually begin to make a difference.

Lao Tzu's advice comes to mind: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What he didn't say, is that a thousand mile journey takes all the steps that it requires. It will be pretty hard to know exactly how many steps until you start, and even then you may encounter the detour along the way which requires more steps than you planned. Getting started may be much more important than having all the steps mapped out first.

Obviously, not many of us will change the world with a couple of small steps, but without taking the first of these, not much is likely to follow.

Next week, we will pick up on question #3 and how to influence others. Do give question #2 some thought this week. Better still, make the list and take a couple of those small first steps.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)