Empowerment: the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights (Google Search)
Empowerment is a concept I hold close to both my life and the work I do. Underneath all that I do, this term underlies it all. I strive to experience it as often as I can, and strive to provide both tools and space for my clients to feel it in their own lives as well.
I had an incredible experience a few weekends ago. I participated in my fourth Spartan race (third time for the Super, I've also done the Beast). Every year I train a group of women who want to push their limits and test their strength. We drive the couple hours up together and split off into similar abilities, and work together to get through the 13K challenge. It is seriously one of the highlights of my year every single year. There is nothing like the sisterhood that develops, and the deep respect for one another that inevitably happens through facing obstacles that challenge both body and mind.
This year, instead of running with the group, I decided I would just venture off on my own to see what I was capable of doing on my own. So we began race by hiking up the first of MANY black diamond hills, and tackled the first obstacle (a wooden wall), before I took off.
After dealing with the effects of a sluggish thyroid and high stress that had affected my appetite on and off for months, I was concerned. I promised myself I would push hard but not to the point of sacrificing my health. I would rest when I needed to.
So, with that vow to my body, off I went. I crawled and ran through mud, pulled my body weight over walls, carried a log over my shoulder up a hill, dragged heavy things, lifted, pulled, heaved, climbed…and felt surprisingly good. When I began feeling a big sluggish halfway through the race, I dug into my Camelbak and ate some energy chews. Immediately I felt better and more energized. My feet went back to running.
For every obstacle skipped or missed, you have to do 30 burpees. I came to the javelin and knew burpees were coming. In the years of doing this race, I haven’t once even come close to landing that one. I grabbed the stick (I'm sure there's a more technical term) with 2 hands, set the rope up on the other side of the barrier, envisioned a clean hit and threw as hard as I could. I watched the stick sail through the air and hit the middle of the hay bale. I did it! I cheered aloud for myself and gave a random guy high five and ran past the line up of people doing their burpees. Shortly thereafter I came to the monkey bars. The dreaded monkey bars that I almost pass every year but always slip off near the end.
I climbed atop the hay bale under the first bar and asked the girl behind me for a boost. Even with a jump I wasn’t able to reach the first one. Hanging on to the first bar, I looked to the end, took a deep breath and silently whispered “you’ve got this Rachel. You can do hard.” The people beside me started dropping off like flies while my eyes focused on the bell at the end. One bar at a time. I swung madly from one bar to the next, and before I knew it, I swung at the bell that marked the end and whooped along with its sound. I did it! I again, cheered loudly for myself and continued on.
The whole race went that way. Up those dreaded black diamonds that tortured my hamstrings, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and kept going. I passed buff men who had to pull aside to break. I passed girls 10 years younger than me who could no longer breathe. Steady paced, eventually I hit the top and didn’t require a break, not even once. At the top I walked for 30 seconds or so to recover and went back to running.
In the end, my goal was 3 hours.
I crossed the finish line in 2:26:54
Of my age group, I was 3rd of 103
Of my gender, I was 8th out of 531
Overall, of 1416 people, I was 122.
I was (and am) insanely proud of these numbers. And while I don’t love numbers, and don’t promote valuing your worth by numbers, these ones…make me feel amazing. I killed it. I totally killed it. Despite some health concerns. Despite feeling as though I’m not in the best shape.
And I am fueled. I have not felt this empowered in a very long time.
Here I am – 36 years old. I have 3 children. I am a busy Mama and business owner. I don’t have a trainer, nor did I specifically train for this event. Yet evidently, I am in the best shape of my life. And I know I could have even managed a faster time had I understood what I am capable of (seems like an ongoing lesson for me - to quit underestimating myself!.
Then I got thinking about the things that empower me. There have been a few that stand out:
This race and all the races I have done, similar to this. There is seriously nothing like crossing the finish line after a lengthy struggle (metaphor for life, right? There's nothing better than the good that comes from the flames of hardship).
Giving birth to my 3 children without drugs. I followed my body’s cues and managed through the experiences without a tear, or a single intervention for any of them.
Competing in a fitness competition. I trained hard for a good year and stepped on stage with a bunch of girls much younger than me. I had a 4-year-old and an 18 month and I stood on stage, alone, in a skimpy bikini, feeling amazing.
Anytime I serve my clients, whether that be through classes or workshops. The energy starts to flow through me and I feel incredibly full and blessed.
Empowered. It’s a feeling I NEED to have and it’s a feeling I strive to bring to all the women I work with. There is no better way to fuel passion and spark inspiration. And it trickles into the hearts of everyone around you.
Then I think about validation, and lately have been researching the lines between the two.
Validation is confirmation of worth. It comes from external sources. It's effects are short term, requiring further validation for the same "high."
Empowerment is internal. It's effects are longer lasting.
Let's give an example.
Me running the race and getting through those obstacles on my own, using my own strength, will and determination by believing in myself and telling myself I can do it is an example of empowerment.
Me posting my results on Instagram, waiting for the likes and comments from others so I can feel good about myself - that's validation. Needing someone to compliment me to feel good about myself and confirm my worth.
Which do you think ends up filling and which ends up depleting? It's obvious, isn't it?
So what's the strategy here? Simple.
Do more of what empowers you and less of what causes you to seek validation
List out all the things you have done that made you feel good about yourself that did NOT require a word or gesture from anyone else to affirm your belief and confidence in yourself.
When do you feel strong?
When do you have lots of energy?
What is something you do that you would do even if you were a millionaire?
Immerse yourself in these things. Over time, you will notice your need for validation decreases while the effects from empowerment increases. Before you know it, you'll be riding a steady high. And it will all come from within.
Everything you need is already within you.
And nurture the shit out of this.
Know your worth and your capability. Accept nothing else.