Curious Inkpot- Beyond a Blog

Stories from an Indian Millennial

Self-empowerment : Potential to believe and achieve

Self-empowerment! We hear this word every now and then! Its thrown generously in all motivational speeches and can be easily found on any inspirational posters. But what is it all about and how can one really achieve it and not just think or speak about it?
My first encounter with this word or rather the concept was in my childhood when I read ‘God helps those who helps themselves’. One of the simplest ways of saying, if you empower yourself, things shall come your way. But what exactly is self-empowerment or how does a self-empowered person looks like or feels like? So I, as we say these days, ‘Googled it’. And this is what I found:
Self-empowered: deriving the strength to do something through one’s own thoughts and based on the belief that one knows what is best for oneself.
I had to re-read this line few times to really get it. So what can we pick from it? Let’s start with concentrating on few words that stand out, ‘strength’,  ‘own thoughts’ , ‘belief’  and ‘knows what is best for oneself’!
Now can these words really help us dissect this phenomenon and ways to achieve it? Can this one line hide all that is to be known about self-empowerment? Lets find out!
Let’s concentrate on ‘own thoughts’ and ‘belief’. To me, the first step of this journey of self-empowerment starts with ‘self-believe’.
If you don’t believe you are any good, it doesn’t matter what your family or friends or rest of the world says. They will never be able to convince you, until it comes from within. This reminds me of what my mom used to say every time I would feel down or be disappointed due to something;Mann ke haare haar hai mann ke jeete jeet.
There is a beautiful poem in English that echoes the same sentiments. I can’t help but share two of my favorite stanzas from it.
If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellows will;
It's all in the state of mind.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.
                                                      - Walter D. Wintle
So as the poem says ‘Its all in the state of mind’!
Recently, I was reading an interview of Mr. John Chen, Chairman and CEO of Blackberry. He mentioned two incidents of his earlier career, which I feel, were self-empowerment ‘in action’.
I am directly sharing excerpts of his interview to Washington Post so as not to dilute the impact atleast I felt after reading this :
‘Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was in high school in Hong Kong when I worked for a travel agency doing odds and ends. In the beginning, they didn't give me anything to do. Then one day, my father said, 'How's your job?' I told him.
He said, 'Go back to the office very early in the morning before everybody shows up. I'd like you to sharpen everybody's pencil.'
It turns out to be the best advice I ever had. People came in early, looked at me sharpening the pencil and said, 'What in the world are you doing?'
Then I started getting real things to do. That taught me a lot.
A lot of times in our professional lives, you think about jobs being automatically beneath you. And you're sitting there looking for somebody to give you a really interesting, change-the-world job.
You just have to earn it. You can't assume that you showed up one day like a hotshot.
‘Q: How did you get on the management track?
A: Almost entirely because of the race issue. I was an engineer, helped to design chip sets, circuit boards. I loved it. The company was Burroughs. We made mainframes.
I found out that a number of promotions in the company went to Caucasians, despite the fact that we knew from working day in and day out that some of the minorities were better equipped to do that job.
I thought it was strange. I went to my section head, who happened to be a middle-aged Caucasian gentleman (they were all middle-aged Caucasian gentlemen) and asked, 'Why is that?'
He told me something that was very impactful. He said, and this is stereotyping, 'You guys are very good at engineering, math and science and stuff.' Great employees and stuff like that. 'But I'm not so sure that you guys are very presentable.'
This is the late '70s, early '80s. I was not quite sure what he meant. I thought he meant presentation skills. So I went and, on my own nickel, hired a local TV producer and his wife who ran a communication and presentation class.
They wanted $2,000 for six hours or something. I made $2,100 per month before tax as an engineer. I did it. They put me on the VHS tape recorder. They put me on this set and gave me a lectern and said, 'Read this.'
It was horrible. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I was swaying on the lectern. I got dizzy watching myself. I was not clear. I was not looking at them. I was looking down.
I wasn't communicating. And that's what I learned. It's not about the English. Not about the pronunciation or the diction. It's really about could you communicate. So I worked a lot on it.
The company realized I was doing all of this and promoted me and then paid me back the $2,000.
After that, the company put me on the fast track. They gave me an assignment for six months in every department. By the time I finished it, I learned accounting. I learned material requisition. I learned about how a plant runs. I learned about software. I learned about sales. I learned about marketing, program management.
After two or three years, I ended up the plant manager. The very person who told me about the presentation thing actually worked for me afterward.’
Inspiring! Isn’t it? That’s the power of self-believe. But is it enough to just believe in your potential, to be successful? There was something more that Chen knew! And that brings us to the second step of self-empowerment! ‘Who are you?’
Are you a fish or monkey? It doesn’t matter which of both you are! Important is you know. Now, lot of times, subconsciously or consciously we would depend entirely on the organization to identify the fish or monkey within us. But can that take us as far as we wish to go in life? Sometimes or shall I say most of the times we need to start doing that on our own. And that is not as easy as it might seem like, we all know that!
Remember the story of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the missile man of India? He always wanted to be an air force officer, it was his ‘dearest dream’ as he puts it in his book “My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions”. But as the fate had it, he stood 9th while only 8 vacancies were available in Indian Airforce. He was highly disappointed but not bogged down. He pulled himself up and rose to become the man who headed India’s missile programme and occupy highest office in the country. As he rightly puts up in the book:
“It is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives,”
Be it John Chen or Dr Kalam. Both of them believed in themselves, their potential and knew what was best for them. But did they do everything on their own?
Though, the journey was theirs to make, it wasn’t possible without the guiding lights we call as mentors. Chen found mentors in his father and in a way in the superintendent who rebuked him; Kalam in Sivananda Swami who gave him Bhagwad Gita’s mantra, Defeat the defeatist tendency in his moments of despair post failure in IAF selection.
This brings us to our next step of self-empowerment. I call it, ‘Finding your Bagheera!’
Remember Mowgli from Jungle book? He was smart, wasn’t he? He knew the tricks which none in the animal kingdom knew. But still he needed a companion and a mentor in form of Bagheera, because there are certain things that come only with experience and time.
“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”– Sir Isaac Newton
No matter how clear we are about our goals or how capable we are to achieve them, we all need a mentor who can see farther than we can and guide us in that direction. A child’s first mentors are his parents who teach him to take those very first steps. Maybe the child could have learned to walk on his own but the learning would be a lot slower. Now, is it necessary to find mentors from professional life only? Not always, while they will definitely help, mentors or teachers can come from any walk of life, any age group, and any background. They can be in form of a manager, a friend, a colleague, or spouse or for that matter someone younger to you.
So in short, to me, the beginning of self-empowerment is to believe in your abilities; knowing who you are and what is best for yourself. And having right mentors to guide in this journey of self-empowerment, will ultimately take us where we wish to be in our lives or even further. As Steve Jobs gets it right with these lines:
 “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

I am a writer by passion, a petroleum engineer by accident and a proud Indian by origin. You can connect with me on facebooktwitter and instagram @curiousinkpot

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