The single most important factor for determining if something (or someone) is right for you.
It surprises me that it has taken me this long to realize this simple—but massively powerful—truth for deciding if something (anything!) is worth staying around for.
It’s just one question, really, for every single situation that you find yourself in—a job, a relationship or marriage, a social circle, an activity or society. Just one big question you have to ask yourself that will answer every other question you have about this thing.
And that is: am I empowered by being here?
It’s a big question and you should give yourself ample time. Quietly, in the spaces of your own mind, think it through completely and truthfully. Sometimes though, you already have the answer—it’s in your doubting, your questioning, the slight but perceptible changes in your moods, your shifting energy levels and enthusiasm.
But before we even begin to tackle this, I think we need to define what it even means to feel empowered. It will, of course, mean a whole lot of different things to different people—more happiness for some, more peace for others, or perhaps more of the outward stuff like wealth, reputation, power to influence people.
Essentially however, at the heart of every person’s search for more empowered, happier living, I think it means only two things. Figure these out and you’ll know exactly whether you’re being empowered or dis-empowered where you are; and whether you should stay or leave.
1. Becoming more or less of you.
First, I think that to be more empowered would mean that you are becoming more of the good things that you already are, which you already embody.
So if you’re a generous person, you become more generous. If you’re loving, your loving energy expands to embrace more beings. If you’re a good painter, your skills will flourish and you’ll find more opportunities and space to further explore your talent.
All the lovely things that we all want for ourselves—happiness, love, peace, strength—will increase in us and in turn, we’ll increase it for others.
These ‘good things’ and qualities don’t even have to be something noble or esoteric. It could also be the little things, quirks and passions that make you the best version of you. They are the reasons people like you and want to be around you, the reasons you feel happy about yourself—your odd sense of humor, your fascination with birds, your eclectic fashion sense or the way you practice yoga to Justin Bieber tunes.
I was smacked in the face (metaphorically) with this realization when one day, not so long ago, in a moment of great sadness and depression, I asked a friend if she had felt that I’d been unhappy. She replied that yes, she’d felt I had.
She also told me then that while she had respected all my choices for what I did in my life she felt that my recent life choices were making me so much less of myself. I was a lively, personable, social person, with an upbeat energy that made people like being around me; and now, I was sullen, withdrawn, shrunken, just a shadow of the girl I used to be.
She said, “Those same choices may have been good for someone else, but this place you were in wasn’t good for you. It should have been making you more of you but it wasn’t. It was taking you away from you. You were becoming less. You were shrinking.”
2. Realizing who owns you.
Which brings me to the second thing. When you’re less of you, the best parts of you diminish and are often replaced with just the opposite—where there was love, there is now fear; where there was confidence, there is now guilt; what used to be strength is now a dependency on something beyond yourself.
In short, every awesome, independent, high-frequency vibe you owned is given over to something or someone else. Instead of owning your own power, that thing or person now owns you.
I believe that if you were really empowered, you would be able to leave any situation, place or person and feel confident that you could still make it on your own. Ultimately, you would feel empowered enough to make your own choices—from the littlest ones on a daily basis, to the most significant, life-changing ones.
A sure sign of being dis-empowered, of having totally given over your personal power to someone or something else, is when the very thought of not being ‘there’ anymore fills you either with fear or guilt (or both). This is especially true when, logically and lawfully you haven’t actually done anything wrong but still live in a way that is governed by fear or dictated by threat or guilt.
Your choices become limited. Even worse, your freedom or ability to make those choices are restricted or erased; unwittingly, you let some force beyond you decide for you. It could be a domineering boss at work, a social circle that constantly goads you into doing things you’re not comfortable with, a manipulative spiritual mentor, an abusive partner.
(There is sadness and grief of course, leaving a place you have grown fond of or not having in your life someone you love deeply. Just be careful not to confuse these feelings of sadness or grief with the much more sinister feelings of fear or guilt.)
You will know, somehow, instinctively like the cry of a deeply embedded survival instinct, when you’re somehow not happy about something and if you’re being stopped from finding that true, luminous happiness within yourself.
If you’re not sure, stop for a moment just to listen to your body and your inner voices—they will tell you with the utmost certainty what you’re truly feeling and how you’re hurting.
Then, to decide whether you should even bother sticking around to fix things or just make for the door, go back to that single, big, powerfully determining question:
Are you empowered by being here?
It took two beautiful friends to ask me that question before I finally found enough courage, in a sudden inspired moment, to leave a difficult situation that I’d been in for a very long time. It was the most empowering gift they could have given me.
“Ask yourself,” they said, “if it empowers you?”
Does it makes you more or less of you? Does it makes you fearful and guilty; or brilliant and strong?
If it doesn’t, if it’s dis-empowering you, then you will only diminish until there is no more of you. But if it does, you will find the very best, most lovable, strong, peaceful, happy version of you.
And isn’t that really the only reason we join anything or anyone for in the first place?
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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal / Ed: Cat Beekmans