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Self Empowerment

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Almost everyone who knows me will agree that confidence is one trait that I have in spades. But three years ago when I met a college buddy from 30 years past, and he asked "how did you become so confident?" I had to pause and do some introspection.

30 years ago, in college, I still was pretty strong-headed but otherwise I doubt I had a strong opinion on anything, nor had I made any major decisions on my own, besides what I was going to wear to college that day.

Upon completing my Bachelor's degree, and a year after an arranged marriage at 21, I arrived in the land of the brave, and the home of the free.

I was in a new country, with no money, no friends, a stranger for a husband (arranged marriage), and mom was continents and continents away! My saving grace was being able to communicate fluently in English, the result of a convent education in Mumbai, India.

So how did I get from there, to here?

The general meaning of Self-empowerment is taking control of our own life, setting goals, and making positive choices. Basically it means that we have to understand our strengths and weaknesses, and have belief in ourselves.

For me, self-empowerment is standing up for my own beliefs, and executing actions around those beliefs, to the best of my ability. Also, for me, self-empowerment came from being "hungry." Hungry to succeed, hungry to achieve more in life, hungry to do the right thing, and hungry to overcome any challenges that come my way.

And therefore, I believe that confidence and self-empowerment go hand in hand. But it's the classic "chicken or the egg" question; Does self-empowerment build confidence or does having confidence make us self-empowered?

And so here I share my experiences, and my perspective on being self-empowered.

For the first few years, I barely remember making any independent decisions. My career started at Kmart, where I spent everything I earned at the Blue Light Special. After six months of applying and making the rounds, at labs at the University of Michigan, and even offering to pay to get a job, I landed a job as a research assistant, earning $3.35 an hour, minimum wage in 1985.

My first real "independent decision making" came when I was pregnant, and my husband advised me to stay home and raise children, "because minimum wage barely covered gas expenses, and certainly wouldn't cover daycare expenses." I almost listened to him, because I still hadn't begun making "independent decisions" yet.

But my then boss, when he found out that I was resigning because I was having a baby, yelled at me for 20 minutes at the top of his lungs. He was a researcher, and an ex-army officer from Israel. He told me that I was foolish to throw away a perfectly good career just because I was having a baby. He also told me that that's why America has daycare centers, so that moms can go to work too. And I believe that that was the turning point for me. He empowered me to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.

So I did. I quit that job, but took a class to acquire new skills, all the while pouring over the Sunday classifieds in the newspaper (remember when that was the way we searched for jobs?).

A few weeks after my daughter was born, I landed at General Motors (GM), in a temporary job as a Chemist. Later on I learned that my answers to two questions got me hired. The 1st was "do you know how to run a chromatography machine" and my answer was "no, but I can read instructions." The 2nd was, "what shift do you want to work," and I said "midnight shift."

Being "hungry to get somewhere in life" was a huge motivator. I wanted to have my cake, and eat it too, hence the midnight shift request, so that I could be with my daughter during the day and work at night. That was my 1st independent decision, and the first in my journey to become self-empowered.

That nine-month temporary assignment eventually became a full-time position, and led to a 20 year, very rewarding career at GM.

My self-empowerment grew as I progressed in my career and my actions resulted in progress.

General Motors was an amazing learning ground, where I learned on-the-job-skills and "soft-skills." Some other learnings included "don't call an ass an ass to his face, the boss is always right even if he's wrong, and those who lacked a backbone were promoted sooner than those who had one."

Me, I was born with a ramrod backbone and so I let my work speak for myself. I was fortunate enough to work for a few good men, and a few not so good women, all of whom contributed to my growing self-empowerment in their own way.

During one two-year period, when I had more time on my hands than work, I took every class offered by GM University. In addition to honing my communication, presentation, and interpersonal skills, I also learned negotiation, conflict management, stress management and even speed reading.

When I quit General Motors in 2008, I was riding a high. In 2004, facing total burnout from a very stressful job, I had planned my exit strategy. I had started a web marketing firm, hoping to quit GM and become a full-time entrepreneur in five years. That little bitty company that I had started in 2004 was growing at a steady pace. Just four years later, on August 1st, 2008, I finally quit GM. That was self-empowerment to the nth degree, cause I walked away from a cushy job where I could have cruised for another 10 years, not to mention all the benefits including a new company car every three months.

I had no control over the economy, nor could I see into the future. So two months after leaving GM, when the economy crashed and another recession came around, my self-empowerment almost vanished. I had played a big hand and lost. My family's future was affected from the loss of a steady income, and the unsteadiness of my entrepreneurial venture.

I could go through the "what-ifs." What if I had stayed at GM for two more months? What if I had started a business that was recession proof? What if I had...

But I had just begun building my FAITH then, and faith made the what-if's unnecessary. Instead of focusing on "what-if," faith made me think "so what, let's think of what's next". Faith once again ignited the hunger, and made me determined to roll with the punches.

I will admit that "building faith" hasn't been easy. Sometimes, even I fell prey to the "why me" argument, in spite of having faith. But two minutes after the self-pity party, my faith reminded me that self-pity and worry never helped solve a problem, and that I had to believe in myself and believe that eventually, ALL will be well.

Bottom line: FAITH + Action + Skills (Knowledge/Training) = Confidence = Self-empowerment

That's my story about how I became self-empowered. What are your thoughts? I hope you will share your experiences so please post your comments or tweet me (@nipashah).

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