28. What Empowered People Do

Working to empower yourself is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your movement, and the world at large. Doing so is largely a matter of forming certain intellectual, emotional and behavioral habits. Below is a list to get you started; as always, take it slow, applaud every bit of progress you make, and never bash yourself for perceived “failures.”

Empowered people build infrastructures to support their success.

When you take a job in a corporation, you automatically acquire, on your first day of work, and with little or no effort on your part, most or all of the following: a desk, office, computer, computer assistance, electricity, lights, a bathroom, phone, schedule, rule book, records of your predecessor’s work, a salary, benefits, reference books and other materials, colleagues, a boss, a boss’s boss, a human resources department, and a budget for additional purchases.

I call all of the money, things and people that make it possible for you to do your job your “success infrastructure.” As you can see, success infrastructures tend to be big, complex and expensive.

Activist work is as hard, or harder, than corporate work, which means you probably need an equivalent, or better, infrastructure for it. In activism, however, it’s often the case that no one gives you your infrastructure; rather, you need to create it yourself. That is not so much a task as an ongoing process, and it should be one of your top priorities at all times. An unempowered person will sit around bemoaning all the resources he needs but doesn’t have. An empowered person, in contrast, will identify a need and quickly start working the phones to get it met. In doing so, he creates his success infrastructure.

Empowered people educate themselves.

They are lifelong learners, and constantly reading, attending classes, and consulting experts and others. They are naturally curious about a wide range of topics, and not biased against non-political or “soft” subjects such as personal finance and self-help.

Empowered people welcome challenges.

Many people avoid challenges and the unknown, but empowered people welcome them as growth opportunities. They also know that success often comes from pushing oneself just a little bit beyond one’s “comfort zone.”

Here’s what Christopher Reeve, in Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life (New York: Random House, 2002), had to say about comfort zones:

The vast majority of people live within a comfort zone that is relatively small. The comfort zone is defined by fear and our perception of our limitations. We are occasionally willing to take small steps outside it, but few of us dare to expand it. Those who dare sometimes fail and retreat, but many experience the satisfaction of moving into a larger comfort zone and the joyful anticipation of more success. A person living with a disability may find the courage to leave the comfort zone of his own house for the first time. An able-bodied individual might decide to face claustrophobia by taking up scuba diving. Even as our country tries to cope with terrorism, most of us know intuitively that living in fear is not living at all.

Fortunately, activism provides no shortage of opportunities to be challenged! Even worthwhile challenges can be scary, however, which brings us to . . .

Empowered people anticipate, and learn to deal with, fear and anxiety.

Recall Steven Pressfield’s story about how Henry Fonda threw up before every performance. For forty years, he threw up; and then, each time, he went out and gave his performance.

Unsuccessful people often assume that successful people find success easy, or are unusually good at coping with stress. That’s often not the case, however. Successful people may get just as scared or anxious as anyone else, but they figure out ways to cope. In fact, they are determined to cope. They understand that the negative feelings are transient and relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

Empowered people seek out not just mentors, but protégés.

Empowered people seek out protégés—people to mentor—not just because they know that the world runs better when everyone gives back, but also because they know that mentoring is one of the best uses of their time. Mentoring helps you identify and reinforce your strengths, and also increases your base of knowledge. And because the goal of mentoring is to help your protégé evolve into an empowered person, mentoring is also one of the best ways to expand what Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (see Bibliography), calls your “circle of influence.”

Empowered people reprogram their thoughts for success.

They make a conscious effort to replace dysfunctional thought patterns with functional ones. For instance, they try to replace

Negative thinking with . . . Objective, or positive, thinking

Self-criticism with . . . Self-acceptance or self-praise

Judgmental thinking with . . . Compassionate observation and objective analysis

Perfectionist thinking with . . . Reasonable goal setting and tolerance of error

Hypersensitivity with . . . Resilience

Panic with . . . Calm and perspective

So, if an empowered person who happens to be an activist screws up at a press conference and then catches himself thinking, “What a jerk I am . . . ” he immediately and consciously stops that line of thought and replaces it with another, more functional one. For example: “That press conference didn’t go well because I didn’t have time to rehearse my points. In the future, I will make sure to spend a few hours rehearsing the day before. But, it wasn’t all bad: several of the writers who attended said they would use our story. I will call them this afternoon to confirm that and to clear up any misunderstandings I may have caused.”

Empowered people deal quickly and decisively with their obstacles.

That’s because they know that, not only are obstacles a serious impediment to success, but that they tend to worsen over time. Empowered people also know that success, which brings its own busy-ness and stresses, can worsen many Situational Obstacles in particular. Many people, for example, let their health or relationships deteriorate as they become more professionally successful.

Don’t let something like that happen to you—start dealing with your obstacles now.

Empowered people understand that success is often a performance.

Most people feel empowered at least part of the time. We all have moments when we operate at peak performance (or have a peak experience, see Part IV, Chapter 2) and feel on top of the world.

The crucial question is: What do you do in between those moments?

My suggestion is that, even in moments of non-motivation, you should act as if you are highly motivated. This is because of a wonderful thing that behavioral scientists have discovered: that not only do our emotions dictate our actions, but our actions often dictate our emotions. Research has shown, for instance, that we don’t just smile because we’re happy, we actually become happier when we smile. That’s because the smile initiates a sequence of hormonal and other events that relaxes us and makes us feel good.

Professional salespeople, who must be “on” close to 100 percent of the time in order to make their quotas, are very familiar with this phenomenon. They are taught that their posture, facial expression and other physical attributes affect not only their mood but their customers’. Salespeople are taught to smile even when talking over the telephone, because although the customer on the other end of the line can’t see them do it, the salesperson’s voice sounds much more forceful and dynamic when she smiles. Try it.

Many salespeople, performers, athletes and other peak performers develop a personal collection of tricks, rituals and physical and mental exercises to help themselves get and stay pumped for their workday.8 You should do the same thing.

And here’s the icing on the cake, the amazing secret that empowered people in every field eventually learn: that with enough practice mimicking peak performance, you will actually start experiencing the real thing more often. Experts say that while we probably can’t operate at peak all the time, we can probably do so much more frequently than we realize.9 Simply by becoming more familiar with the state of performing at peak, you train yourself to enter into that state more easily and frequently.

And that will be the most amazing reward of all, for all of your hard work.

By now, you’ve learned to Manage Your Mission, Manage Your Time and Manage Your Fears. One more challenge remains, arguably the toughest, but also the most rewarding: Managing Your Relationships. In The Lifelong Activist I’ve divided this challenge into two parts: Managing Your Relationship with Self; and Managing Your Relationship with Others. First is . . .