As women, it’s easy to read a magazine and feel empowered when Oprah tells us, “This is your moment. Own it.” On the next page Beyoncé purrs, “the most alluring thing a woman can have is confidence.”

The women of Hollywood are always cheering us on. Taylor Swift says, “Happiness and confidence are two of the prettiest things you can wear.”

But how do you feel sitting outside your manager’s office before you ask for a raise? Alone in the doctor’s office, you learn you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

What then? Can we “shake it off” and stroll into the world like boss babes? Empowering words wither when life strikes a blow. How can we empower ourselves in the real world?

Empowerment Defined

According to Merriam-Webster, empowerment is “the act or action of empowering someone or somethingthe granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.” The United Nations says women’s empowerment should give “women access to full participation in all sectors and at all levels of economic activity… (to build) strong economies.”

For many women, empowerment is about feeling comfortable and confident enough to state their desire without fear of reprisal. It’s less a state of mind and more a growth process.

How Do I Become Empowered?

Declaring yourself empowered works about as well as Michael Scott “declaring bankruptcy” in The Office. Empowerment is elusive until you create an environment where your confidence can flourish.

Step One: Self-reflection

Whether you’re navigating office politics or a health issue, empowerment starts by facing your fears. Confidence is smothered in the presence of its enemy, fear. So ask yourself what scares you about asking for a raise, then shed light on that fear.

Write it down, share it with a friend, play the “worst case scenario” game. Many times, once fear is brought into the light, it loses its ability to steal your power.

Step Two: Take Action

Once fear is taken down a notch, it’s time to take action. Remove the obstacles in your path, even if one of the obstacles is yourself.

  • Create habits that breed success
    Need to lose weight? Make early morning workouts easier by laying out your clothes and preparing your water bottle the night before. Find an accountability partner who is not afraid to call you out when you slack off. If you know you have a proclivity for candy bars from the office vending machine, then think ahead and stock healthy trail mix and fruit at your desk each week.
  • Address your deficiencies
    Are you tongue-tied in high-pressure office situations or do you frequently find yourself on the losing end of propositions in life and business? Consider taking a course on negotiation. Coursera.org offers the free course, “Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator” to help build your skills in forming arguments and untangling conflict.
  • Polish your public speaking skills
    Whether you’re an entry-level peon or a CEO, public speaking skills are integral to confidently engaging with an audience—whether it’s two people or 2,000. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that connects community members interested in practicing public speaking skills. Visit the website to find a group near you.

Step Three: Embrace the Process

Just as a ship takes time to change course, navigating your life toward empowerment will not happen overnight. Take baby steps and choose one area where you’d like to take control and chart new territory. Small victories can propel progress in other areas, and soon you’ll be well on your way to an empowered life.

Shannon D. Smith