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Empowerment is the RIGHT word. But are we listening to the WRONG people?

September 10, 2020

In the spring, I had the pleasure of spending a sunny Saturday virtually celebrating one of my best friend’s 10th business anniversary. Pam’s business, Koils by Nature, is how we met and became friends. We started the afternoon on her official celebration!

But we had such an amazing time and there were other people she wanted to talk to, so we continued with an afterparty later that night. I can’t even tell you how amazing it was. #afterthepartyitstheafterparty

For over 2 hours, we shared stories, love, mutual admiration, and lessons. At the end, someone watching the live stream commented that this was Pam’s first empowerment event.

Pam laughed and replied, “Yeah it probably is…we just have to find another word.”

After the livestream ended, her comment resounded in my mind.

So I did what I always do…looked up the word “empowerment” in the dictionary.

  1. The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.
  2. A set of measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority.

Anyone who claims to support, undergird, or teach empowerment would taut these definitions as the foundation of their work.

Even the user-curated, subjective (and sometimes even petty) Wikipedia describes empowerment as

“both the process of self-empowerment and professional support of people, which enables them to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence, and to recognize and use their resources. To do work with power.”

Probably the deepest and most comprehensive work around the definition of empowerment comes from Julian Rappaport, an American psychologist who introduced the concept of empowerment into social work and social psychiatry.

Rappaport (1984) defines empowerment as

“an intentional, ongoing process centered in the local community, involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation, through which people lacking an equal share of resources gain greater access to and control over those resources.”

When it comes to empowerment, even academicians don’t want to confine empowerment to one single definition. Some psychologists, like Robert Adams, fear that a singular definition may impede the connected practices from the very people the word empowerment should belong to. Yet, he offers a minimal definition to work from,

“the capacity of individuals, groups, and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power, and achieve their own goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives.”

Sounds good right?!?! Really empowering, right (pun intended)?

All of these definitions are what we’re looking for when we log in for a webinar, attend a luncheon, or travel for an event. Yet sometimes we end the experience with more questions than answers. More bewilderment than direction. More “analysis paralysis” than actual empowerment (if we base that on the definition above).

The disdain with empowerment has been festering and mushrooming for a long time. From disgruntled Twitter threads and FB posts to widely shared articles by Sallie Krawcheck or this one on Madame Noire consumers have periodically questioned the value and validity of the empowerment movement. Wandering what is really accomplished beyond graphically enticing memes, visually appealing venues, and carefully curated photos.

So where did the disillusionment with empowerment (especially women’s empowerment) and empowerment events come from?

Before we go on, let me forewarn you that this is probably not going to be the “YES! Drag them!” piece you’re expecting. In fact, you may not even make it through the whole thing. While we have the right to “complain” about the marketplace, and the coaches, events, and “gurus” it produces, we also have to look in the mirror at what it is we desire to consume (content, events, products, etc.). You see, the marketplace produces what consumers (say they) want. So if we want to change what’s being produced, we have to first look In the mirror and examine what we want to consume.

Am I In It for the Clout?


Part of my philosophy as a lifelong learner is that I can learn from anyone—even if that lesson is what not to do. However, I don’t always have to purchase anything or attend an event in order to learn that lesson. This perspective especially applies to “celebrities” who haven’t proven their expertise and/or credibility enough for me to spend my money (only speaking for me). I’ve seen so many people online who have attended an empowerment event with a celebrity and left with a dope photo or two, but not much else. I’m left a little perplexed when they express their disgruntlement because I guess I didn’t expect much based on that certain celebrity’s online persona.

So I want us to ask ourselves are we following certain people because of their perceived clout or because we genuinely feel connected to them because they are actually trying to use their experiences and expertise to empower a community of like-minded individuals?

Now I’m not saying there aren’t certain celebrities I wouldn’t pay money to see and hear in person. I definitely had no qualms paying goodt money to see Michelle Obama on her Becoming tour. But I had been inspired by her (for the free) for a whole decade prior.

Am I Willing to Do the Work?

The second question I want us to ask ourselves is “Am I willing to do the work?” Whether it’s a detailed plan or just a starting point, if we aren’t willing to do the necessary work and follow the instructions given, it’s hard to become “stronger or confident in controlling our lives” (see empowerment definition above). I’ve participated on enough panels and conducted enough webinars to understand the deeper question when people ask “how” do you do something. From the tone of their voice to the look in their eyes, many people are really asking “how can I achieve your results without doing nearly as much work?”

Lots of experts have systematized processes to help minimize the experimentation that it took for them to achieve the same results. But that does not eliminate the fact that we still have to do the work necessary to achieve the results we desire. And if we fail to implement the tools and principles a course, book, or event gives—then is it their fault that we apply what they attempted to empower us with to our own lives?

Counting Up the Cost

The reason many people fail is not for lack of vision but for lack of resolve and resolve comes from counting up the cost.

Robert H. Goddard

When we’re examining what we have gotten or will get out of an “empowerment” event, it’s important to know the costs—tangible and intangible. And then determine if we can “afford” it.

For me there are (minimally) four “cost factors” to assess:

To me, each of these areas weigh into if, when, and how you can accomplish any goals you desire as a result of participating.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go or participate. I think it just means that you go into it with eyes wide open.

Managing Expectations

Knowing the tangible and intangible cost of empowerment can help tremendously in managing expectations.

One of the easiest ways to manage your expectations is to READ. I have done enough empowerment events to know that reading is not fundamental and comprehension is even less so sometimes.

Do you see words like introductory or masterclass? That gives a clue into the type of and how much information may be given. An introductory empowerment session or content is probably not going to give you deep details in how to empower yourself in that particular area. You’re probably not going to get swipe files or 32-point checklists. Whereas a masterclass will be a deeper dive into the subject matter.

What type of event is it? Is it a brunch? If so, it will likely be hard to ask super specific questions and get super detailed answers. I’m always amazed at people that go to a brunch in their finest duds and expect to walk out with a 5 year plan and gamebook—no matter how much it costs. Brunches and retreats are usually the 2 types of events that get the most smoke when it comes to empowerment criticism. One retreat event was dragged for weeks by some saying it wasn’t “empowery” enough (yep, just made up a word). But the event wasn’t even an empowerment event—it was marketed as a luxury vacation. So people who went there with the mindset that they were going to leave the resort with pocket full of business cards and a game plan were disappointed—partly because they didn’t read.

Establish Your Own Goals

I worked in higher education for 10 years. And one thing about this industry that has helped me throughout life is EVERYTHING you did had to have a goal or outcome. We were encouraged and expected to attend one professional conference annually for our own development. And on the travel request form, we had to share what we expected to get from the conference.

That same rationale should apply to empowerment events you attend or content you consume.

What are your goals? What do you want to gain from it?

There have been times I attended an empowerment event or conference and knew I probably wasn’t going to learn a ton of new information, but I went because I could get in front of decision makers or peers I could potentially collaborate with. My goals usually extend beyond the scope of information I may learn. I’ve attended events to hear one person speak or because I found out someone I wanted to meet and network with was going to be there. I went prepared with ideas, questions, even pitches.

I may not have always walked away with a ton of new information. Sometimes confirmation you’re doing the right thing is good too. But I always walked away with some goal met.

Do Your Own Work

No matter who it is or how much it costs, it doesn’t change the fact that you have to do the work.

CiCi Gunn, known online as The Six Figure Chick (RIP), said it best…

Stop getting mad about the things you don’t have from the work you haven’t done.

This truly was one of my greatest frustrations as a “coach” (ugh I HATE labels). I would give clients strategy, I mean GOODT ideas, places to start, things to do before our next call—and so many times they would show up on the next call frustrated or flustered because they hadn’t done the work.

For me the first and most crucial step in doing my work to maximize the impact of any content or event designed to empower is CRITICAL REFLECTION.

Reflection is necessary for any experience to be transformative.

A good starting place are these 3 questions…

  1. How does what I’m learning and experiencing fit into my life?
  2. What of what I’m learning am I going to incorporate into my life, ministry, brand or business?
  3. What changes have to be made in order to fit it into my life?

There is no way around the work it takes in order to empower yourself.

So I encourage you to log in to that course (or courses) you bought (raises hand and hangs head in solidarity), read over those notes from the last live, event, or webinar you participated in, read a chapter in the book you bought—and use the 3 questions to reflect and come up with an action plan to do the work.

Consider the Source

I said at the beginning that I can learn from just about anyone—even if it’s what not to do. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to pay for it.

I am trying not to throw shade, but you have to really consider the source—especially before an investment. Especially when it comes to “celebs” or people with large platforms. Listen to them being interviewed. Watch their videos. Read their captions. These are literally clues into who they are and how they are going to show up—even at a paid event or with paid content.

An Instagram celeb has had a hard time recently after allegations were made (with receipts) that she plagiarized her book. No disrespect, but I literally thought “well what did you expect?”

We each learn differently and from different people. I totally get that. But as I challenged us with earlier—ask yourself, what am I chasing after? Clout? Or the change that comes from empowerment? Ask yourself: does this person have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to truly inspire change in my life?

Vet and Vibe

This principle has become more important to me than ever since the Jessica Krug story came to light. “Becky Shabazz” (one of the many nicknames the Twitterverse gave her) is a Caucasian, Jewish woman who chose to live her adult life first as a black woman and then evolving into an Afro-Latina woman. She eventually “outed” herself when I guess it became apparent that she was about to be outed by others. In the days after her “apology,” numerous people revealed that parts of her story didn’t add up, but it wasn’t appropriate to probe any further. A few people mentioned they got a weird “vibe” from her and kept their distance.

I mention this story because I think if a few people had followed their instincts and the vibe they felt and vetted her a bit more, it would have saved students (the part that really peeves me off), colleagues, and an entire community. Whether it’s a professor, pastor, or speaker, when it comes to people who seek to inform and empower—I think it’s our due diligence to vet before we invest. #vetbeforeyouinvest Now I’m not suggesting a full background check and credit report (but if that’s how you get down, I get it). But google their name. Read both the good and the bad book reviews. See how far back their online history goes (there is a difference between evolution and erasure).

And above all else—follow the vibe, trust your instinct. There is another certain entrepreneur, coach, influencer who I just could never get behind and follow. The vibe I got from her just did not sit right with me and where I was going in my life or business. People purchased her products, invested in her services, downloaded her app, etc. Meanwhile I’m just over here in the corner—unmoved. Had a few people tag me in posts, send me videos, and inquire if I followed her or her advice. I kept my thoughts to myself because I did not want any subconscious insecurity (or even jealousy) to prohibit someone from having a life impacting experience. Plus, one thing I’ve realized in this info and services space is that people learn and accept from different people—far be it from me to impact someone else’s learning. Eventually disgruntled customers and clients began to speak out. This mushroomed into several instagram channels calling for her and her husband’s “cancellation” (a concept I don’t ascribe to—except for R. Kelly), and the gathering of hundreds of pages of documents that were allegedly sent to several federal agencies. Of course, all parties are innocent until proven otherwise. I am not familiar enough with the brand to know it’s inner workings, but I just have to wonder if they heard testimonials from actual customers or just took the brand owners word for the results they would get. I am just glad I followed my instinct and kept my (social and business) distance.

When it comes to empowering others, the amount of responsibility is greater in some aspects because you have assumed responsibility for the empowerment, growth, or development of another individual. And that is NOT something to be taken lightly.

Commit to being an AUTHENTIC thought leader

Being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect. It means “not false or imitation” and “true to one own’s personality, spirit, or character.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/authentic). Being authentic doesn’t mean that you won’t ever quote someone or be inspired by work they’ve already done. Innovation usually comes from inspiration. But it DOES mean that you actively seek to give credit where it’s due and acknowledge someone else’s work. In other words–don’t steal and don’t plagarize.

In order to be and live as an authentic thought leader means that we have to do all of the things I shared above about empowering ourselves and thinking critically and reflectively. We don’t have to have all the answers. But our authenticity and credibility as a thought leaders increases as our audiences SEE us doing the work, applying it our lives, reflecting on what worked, then systematizing it to teach to others.

My philosophy as a thought leader was akin to Tim Ferriss who considered himself a “human guinea pig.” I would often ask my tribe what they wanted to learn, learn and apply it myself, then teach it to them. Whatever your philsophy is, be true to it, yourself, and the people you seek to empower.

Examine Your Intentions

For those who see to empower, we need to examine our intentions. As I said earlier, we have assumed responsibility for someone else’s growth and development. I honestly view being in the empowerment space as a calling, not a vocation. And thus, it’s not for everyone.

We have to ask ourselves–are we doing this to serve or to be self-serving? None of us have taken a vow of poverty. However, if we get into the empowerment and self-help industry, we do take a vow of service–whether we like it or not.

Leading well is not about enriching yourself—it’s about empowering others

John C. Maxwell

Leave others better than you found them

Our vow of service means that with each article, book, podcast, video, event, program, or webinar we create–our ultimate goal is to leave others better than we found them. That “better” can be achieved in a variety of ways, like

Our goal should always be to leave people with something they didn’t have when they came in or got started.

Leadership is about empowering others to achieve things they did not think possible.

Simon Sinek

Have and state clear goals and objectives

Our intentions become clearer when we clearly state what we’re offering. When I worked in higher ed, I worked on the Student Life side of the university. My area planned events, concerts, and workshops for students–outside of the classroom. I served on most of the major event committees. And the agenda item for our first meeting was always the goals and objectives for the event. I used to balk at this, thinking (and sometimes saying), “It’s a welcome back event with inflatables–the goal is fun.” But they always made me dig deeper and actually find words to articulate what we desired students to see, feel, experience at the events. When I started International Natural Hair Meetup Day, I required the same thing of our event hosts. This prevented both the university events and INHMD events from being arbitrary and not cohesive. It provided an unofficial checklist to remind them of what they said they wanted to provide. And so it should be for the empowerment content we create.

Establish Thought Leadership

I think this is crucial, but not always easy to navigate This space. We are taught almost from jump to monetize our knowledge–which is true. However, we increase our credibility and ease at which we can monetize when we spend some strategic effort establishing ourselves as thought leaders in our niche or field.

Because so many of us provide so much value and information to our audience, they can sometimes feel on information overload. And sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. This is where we, as the thought leader and experts, can increase the value to our audience and our authenticity as a thought leader by incorporating opportunities for reflection and community into our empowerment content. This can take various shapes and forms like

Giving people “white space” to reflect and network acknowledges that you recognize the need for reflection and that your audience may have various learning styles.

The ongoing, intentional process of empowering ourselves and others isn’t easy. But it’s so worth it. The partnership of empowering ourselves and empowering others changes lives and communities. Let us come to the table of empowering ourselves and others with the intention of leaving that table full, satisfied, energized, and ready to do the work to make lasting change not only for ourselves, but for our communities.

I’d love to know some of the people, podcasts, books, and events that have empowered you. Leave them in the comments—always looking to add to the collection!

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ADEEA R. ROGERS

Adeea R. Rogers, known as The Trendy Socialite, believes her calling is to help empower others to develop and pursue their purpose. And as a result, she is known as “The Purpose Pusher.” Adeea seeks to equip others with the motivation and tools necessary to create and design the life they want. Adeea believes in creating the change you want to see through creating events, communities and movements. She created International Natural Hair Meetup Day (INHMD), giving women around the world the opportunity to guide each other in their natural hair journeys. In July 2015, she co-founded Black Biz Live, a community-based initiative where black owned businesses are featured on livestream platforms. Adeea’s perspective on living a purposeful life, personal branding tips, and content marketing ideas, cause her to be a sought-after event host, workshop facilitator, speaker and panelist. She also hosts a podcast, The Trendsetters Podcast. Adeea has a profound love for three things: Her Savior, Jesus Christ, Starbucks, and Statement Jewelry.