Feeling Empowered: How to Empower Yourself as a Woman

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I recently saw a clip of Jennifer Garner giving the commencement speech at her alma mater, Denison University.  Among other sage advice, she offered this:

 “If you’re a woman — and pardon me for being binary for just a second — the stage has been set. The world is yours to grab. Go out and get it, girl.”

As I watched the speech, it struck me that she had to be so direct and specific with the female graduates in the audience.


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In my new book, Unqualified Success, I noted a mentoring program that was created a few years ago for women working in venture capital and private equity firms.  Several high-level managing finance directors were approached about the new program. Many of these women were very excited to participate.  However, all of those that were interested in being part of the program wanted to enroll in the “mentee side” of the program.

The program organizer reported to Pacific Standard Magazine that none of the women who registered to participate—regardless of their title or position—thought they “were experienced enough to be mentors,” nor did they think they had anything of substance to offer someone else.  One candidate said, “It’s sort of surprising to me that even when you get to the top, you still don’t realize you’ve made it there.”

In my book, I wrote:

“The reason for this was not the women’s actual qualifications. It was not their schooling or their resume or their years of experience. It was not about the projects or accounts they have managed or the size of the funds they supervised. It was only because of how they thought about their own qualifications and abilities.”

When I heard Jennifer Garner’s comment, it reminded me of this program and the reticence these women showed in accepting the role of mentor and leader.  As I have thought about this and reflected on my own experiences, it makes me wonder if self-belief is a bigger struggle for women in general, and perhaps the “glass ceiling” is more self-imposed than we think.

Of course, there are real cases of discrimination that need to be addressed, but I believe that by and large, we can do more as women to realize our dreams and create opportunities simply by believing in ourselves and taking them when they appear.  As Garner said, as women we need to “go out and get it.”

So how do we do this?  If it’s true that women tend to stay trapped by their own feelings of unqualified insecurity longer than men, then how do we move past these feelings and move forward towards our goals with confidence and belief?

Here are a few things that I believe can help (regardless of your sex), to move out of feelings of inadequacy and step into capacity, confidence, and feeling empowered.

1. Recognize that the Outside Can’t Create the Inside

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Many of us are under the mistaken impression that once x, y, or z happens outside of us, then we can feel confident or “ready” inside of us.  This is never the case.

I find too many women (and men) waiting for someone else to recognize their achievements or accomplishments before they can feel confident.  They are waiting for the award, the promotion, the degree, the certification, the salary, the title, in order to feel fully qualified.

The trouble is that all of the things that happen outside of us are results, and results never produce feelings inside of us.  Our thoughts—our deep beliefs—about ourselves are the things that create all our feelings. If we want to feel qualified, worthy, or confident we have to create those feelings with the thoughts we think.  This is the only way.

Do you remember the women who were asked to be part of the venture capital mentor program?  Every one of them had the results to show that they were qualified to be a mentor, but none of them felt like mentors.  This was because their feelings were based on their thoughts, not their results.

It is no different for you.  Stop waiting for x, y, or z to happen before you feel confident.  You can feel the way you want to right now by changing your thoughts about your capacity and abilities.

Before I wrote Unqualified Success, I thought writing a book would give me credibility in my industry and allow me to fill the leadership roles I wanted.  I thought I had to wait for a result in order to have a feeling. It turns out, I was wrong. I didn’t need to write a book to be credible or feel like I “belonged at the table.”  I only had to believe that I belonged and that I had something valuable to offer in order for it to be true. We are always as qualified as we think we are.

2. Recognize that Growth Happens Outside Our Comfort Zone

feeling empoweredMany of us are afraid to go after our dreams and set big goals because we are afraid we will feel disappointed or worse if we don’t reach them.  Often the fear of humiliation, embarrassment, shame, self-doubt or other negative emotions, keep us from doing things outside of our comfort zone.

Instead, we think we need to feel comfortable or confident before we can act.

The truth is we never arrive at this place of confidence without first going outside our comfort zone.  It’s like saying we’ll be comfortable climbing to the top of the mountain once we are at the top of the mountain.  The only way to the top is through the discomfort of the climb.

We often interpret our natural feelings of doubt or fear as reasons not to stretch ourselves.  It doesn’t “feel like a good idea.” Once we recognize that setting goals and taking on new roles is never going to “feel good” and growth is always going to be accompanied by negative emotion, then we can feel bad and move forward with our goals anyway.

3. Recognize that True Limitations are Only Ever in Our Mind

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Sometimes I think it’s easier to blame our lack of opportunities on the people or organizations that we work for rather than look at our part in it.  It’s always easier to be a victim rather than recognize that we are creating every result in our lives through our belief systems.

Rather than blame the circumstances around me which only leaves me powerless, I have found it to be very powerful to instead ask myself what I am thinking that is creating my current result.  Our beliefs always get manifest in our results.

For example, there was a moment in my career when our company was growing quickly and setting some really big goals.  I did not know if I could learn what I needed to fast enough to lead my team and help them become who they needed to be.  I kept thinking the thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

But it was only my beliefs in myself (or lack of them, in this case) that were holding me back.  Somehow it felt safer to hold on to my doubts—like if I failed I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed.  But the truth is by holding on to the insecurities, I was only confirming them true. As Elizabeth Gilbert and others have said, “If you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them.”

When I decided to stop nurturing my doubts and insecurities (that I had created), then there was room for the beliefs I needed to adopt in order to lead my team: “I’m the perfect person to do this.”  That one thought changed everything for me.

Final Word

What are the limiting beliefs that are holding you back from feeling empowered?

Another way to look at it is to imagine that you have achieved what you wanted and then have a talk with your future self.  What does she believe (now that the thing is accomplished or achieved) that you don’t believe now? Decide on purpose to exchange your doubts for what she believes instead.

I’m not sure if unqualified insecurities are more prevalent with men or women, as I only have my own experience as a woman to go by.  But I know that each of us, no matter our sex, can make incredible progress in our lives and towards our big goals when we stop waiting for the outside to change in order to feel something different, recognize that growth always happens outside of our comfort zone and that our limitations are only ever in our mind.

Now, go out and get it, girl!

Because in the corporate jungle, everyone wants to make it to the top. Eight female bosses share their best career advice that they have built over the years.

Guest Post by Rachel M. Stewart

Author, Unqualified Success

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