Where do we find our self-empowerment?
First blog post. And I'm going to share something I wrote as a report after a creative forum I attended a couple of months ago. It screams existential crisis. Get your teeth into that, internet.
One of the questions hanging over my head at the moment is 'How do we empower ourselves whilst empowering others?' and it feels particularly prevalent in the socially engaged arts where the lines of ownership and voice are blurred and scrutinised.
Millennial 24 years olds are ‘bright young things’ in the world of work- surfing the wave of potential and opportunity before landing on the shores of their ‘dream jobs’ at around 30 years old (or so the world conveniently promises). I am 24 and I spend a large amount of my time encouraging the empowerment of others and asking other human beings to interrogate their understanding of their professional and personal approach to our world. I really enjoy this work and being engaged in something that makes me part of a team and part of wider social conscience is exactly where I want to be. I am fascinated by other people and their stories and the fact that my job asks me to reflect on this, on a weekly basis, is something to never be taken for granted.
However (she says hesitantly) recently I have been worried about how to tie all of this external work in with my internal journey. What if in empowering others to share their voices, I forgot to share mine? This feels incredibly self-indulgent, even as I type, but it's something I have been concerned about. It takes a bit of reflection to break this down and see it isn't such a black and white scenario as I am making it out to be. At a recent Devoted and Disgruntled open forum, after a complex discussion about what makes a person 'vulnerable', I took myself into a corner (using the law of two feet) and, in what felt the opposite of the point of the event, I sat alone and came up with my pointers for myself and others to self-empowerment, when working as a practitioner whose main purpose, on the whole, is to empower others. 1) Open Heartedness - when we stop listening to our internal dialogue and start listening, appreciating and absorbing the world around us- we open up to the opportunity to be inspired; inspired by other people and our environments which in turn leads to self-empowerment and inspiration. We can look outside ourselves to achieve internal goals- lifting the veil of pre-determined thought and judgement and freeing ourselves from the resistance. 2) Worthiness. Am I enough? The question we all ask ourselves regularly unless we have totally unfettered self-esteem (lucky you if you do). The main thought here is when we come to understand the value of our own perspective and measure it equally with that of others- we can all flourish. That's an inclusive process and it's a healthy way of living. It is 'Power with' and 'Power within'. It is society that tells us that our voice doesn't matter, but the reality that we are intrinsically all 'enough' and when we collaborate and celebrate our individual perspectives on the world within a collective goal, we can flourish. 3) On a practical level- for me- it is the interrogation of the line between Practitioner and Artist. I've been told by a few excellent women who are further into their careers than me (a lot further) that the two absolutely go hand in hand. At the moment 'Artist' to me feels like the main source of self-empowerment and self-expression and 'Practitioner' feels like the word that makes you the teacher and the passer on of skills (this isn't the whole meaning of the word of course). At 24 they feel quite separate and I want them to be closer together because I want to learn as I guide others and be part of democratic processes. All my work should feed my art. And perhaps it is because I am still young and hungry for it all that I'm realising this: nothing is just a holding station before I get to 'it'- the big moment- the elusive moment when I get to fulfil my creative potential. It's a very particular trait of a young person looking forward- always looking forward never in the 'now'. It's also the epidemic of having to define yourself quickly after graduation. CVs and questions from extended family 'what are you up to?' and 'so what is it that you do?' and 'so are you an actress then?' It all feels like I have to have the answers and I have to have them now. Drown out the noise and focus on your own process rather than worrying too much about the people who think our product is the all we have to answer for. 4) Speaking of always looking forward. The next thought links to one of Improbable Theatre's principles (this is the theatre company who host Devoted and Disgruntled). Notice reality. Instead of focusing on what we think we SHOULD be doing accept the value of what we are doing and what is actually happening. Tune into the realities of our current state and focus. The more we embrace current realities the more we get out of them and the more everyone else gets out of them if we happen to be running a workshop. So, essentially, this project now is just as important in the narrative of my 'self-empowerment' as the one I'm picturing in 5 years time (i.e. the one that doesn't exist). 5) TIME. Give things time. Instant gratification is a slippery slope but one many of us growing up in the 21st century know all too well. Longevity is key to anything sustainable, whether it be a strategy for a whole company or a personal goal. Learning that time provides us with the ability to adapt and grow. I hope to open my eyes and grasp at opportunities as they arise, seeing as much as I can as a valuable source of inspiration as opposed to believing that if I don't make my greatest life's work NOW then it's all too late and I'll never amount to ANYTHING. Gather it all up- one pebble at a time- until the you have shores in your pockets from which you push off and set sail. 6) My fear is boring. Because a lot of this amounts to fear doesn't it? Aren't we the greatest barriers to our self-empowerment and in turn barriers to those around us? I read that once , in 'Big Magic' by Elizabeth Gilbert- that she got bored of her fear. And it struck a chord. When we realise that largely our life and achievements are in our own hands- that's when we realise the main thing stopping us is...us. Ourselves. And you can all tell me that. All the practitioners and artists and anyone and everyone else who have been in this game a lot longer than me. Fear is useless. It is often self-conceived and blocks us from being open and giving the best of ourselves to other people- whether that is our personal relationships or the people we are working with on a community project. Fear of ourselves and others slows us down. I might also add here that I am privileged to be in a position where fear isn't an option or isn't imposed upon me. With choice and privilege to choose comes great responsibility.
Note (written a little time after I wrote this blog) I just thought I would say that I took the brave step to talk to a colleague about these concerns and her wisdom on the subject presented the word 'balance'. Not balance as in chill out, take a step back and move at a hum-drum pace that has no variety. Balance that means this work I do isn't the only space in which my voice and my thoughts and my being exists. It's one facet of my life. You have to look at it all from the perspective of the whole. And who I am in a workshop is one part of the whole. It's a small weight balanced on a circular mobile. And every other piece of me hangs on that same mobile too. One cannot be heavier than the other or the balance will tip. So finding an equilibrium is key- knowing that you are and how you live you life is defined by many things. It's quite a spiritual feeling. I can picture the mobile of me hanging in space- in orbit. Sometimes visualising is good - it creates a bigger picture of the self. My actions define me. But really it is the feeling behind the action that is the most beautiful thing about being human. And when we realise this we start to live a more empowering, shared and empathetic existence. It’s at the core of the work I do. It ties me up in knots sometimes, too, as this focus is not always a ride in the park. It’s a complex and rocky terrain because there is hardship in pulling apart the benefits of empathy and inclusion and artistic goals- you see your own pitfalls and flaws- you see the darkness in the world as well as the light. But I'm pretty sure, in fact I know, the light shines that little bit brighter and that's what makes me feel empowered to get up tomorrow and continue what I do.