Empowerment Through Evaluation and Self-Appreciation

Focusing on how you feel about your behaviour, work, partner, etc. will give you a stronger sense of self and prevent you from giving away your personal power to others by purely relying on their opinions. Do a positive audit of your personality and make a list of the things you actually like about yourself. When you are feeling negative, that list will certainly come in handy to reinforce your gifts.

I recall being positively gobsmacked one day in January 2003. I was having a truly tearful, depressing and miserable day when I suddenly received an unexpected email from Barbados, with a name I did not immediately recognise. Knowing no one in Barbados, I gave it just a cursory glance at first. It came from a pupil I had taught over 18 years earlier who was, by now, a faded memory, but she still remembered me, big time.

The email said simply, "I am assuming that you are the same Mrs. Sihera who used to teach English at Wanstead High School around 1984/1985. Your picture on the website looks exactly as how I remembered you. I do not know if you'll remember me. My name is Donna........ (I think I was the only Black child in your class at the time). I was in your English class for a year, and you took us to see the play: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. ....You left Wanstead before I sat my O levels and I never got the opportunity to thank you for all that you did for me while you were there. You helped build my self-confidence; making me truly proud to be Black. Most importantly, I realised that being different did not equal being bad. Each time I talk about my school days with my family and friends your name is always at the forefront of the conversation. It was only this past Christmas a close friend asked why I didn't try to find you on the Internet and, believe me, I never imagined that it would be so easy. Well, I understand if you do not remember me, as I cannot imagine the number of children you must have taught over the years, but I will always remember you. Thank you, very much for all that you have done and all that you are yet to do."

The power of perception

Needless to say I was very moved and shocked by this email and just cried buckets to realise the effect I had on someone so many years ago. I might have forgotten this routine point in my life, but she hadn't - a classic case of the power of individual perception. Being keen to prove myself in 1985 on the first rung of the management ladder as an assistant year head, focusing on one pupil would not have been a major priority for me then. I went about my business in the knowledge that I was treating every child 'fairly', but to her it was something quite different. I loomed large because there were no other Black successful role models, let alone managers, in her powerful White environment.

Without being aware of it, my presence gave her the confidence to believe she too could make it, at a time when she felt her difference was perceived to be negative. She went on to describe all her achievements since then, which she confidently attributed to my influence, but I wouldn't be so bold as to take any credit. Teaching is a long way back in my memory, even though I enjoyed it tremendously. Yet the most amazing thing for me is that, nearly 20 years on, when I momentarily stopped appreciating myself, others still remembered my value. Keeping on the subject of personal perception, I have never forgotten the play she mentioned, but for an entirely different and very significant reason! However, this email was just the taster to something else I received six months later.

It's not where you start, it's where you finish, as the song says. So remind yourself where you have come from to be where you are now; how brave you were in getting there, and clearly identify the things you are proud of, no matter how small they are. By making such a list we can sometimes rediscover hidden qualities about ourselves, achievements we might have forgotten (though others certainly haven't) and which we often take for granted.

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