Norissa and I met back in 2001, in Ghana, where we were both students. Over the years, she and I have become good friends. She is one of the hardest and smartest working women that I know. Funny, collaborative and forward-thinking, Norissa is just getting started.
Tell us about Empowered To the Third Degree, Inc.?
Empowered to the Third Degree (also known as E3) is a women’s empowerment group that started in April of 2006. Our slogan, “Empower me, empower you, empower us,” tells the whole story. In essence the vision of the group is, “a collective of women taking the self actualization journey together”…sharing…networking…offering concrete and conceptual tools that contribute to one another’s success. Thereafter, we turn outward and share our strength with the larger community.
What inspired you to start the group?
Well…since I was about 14, I became passionate about living my life, “on purpose”. I had these large dreams of future success. In keeping with those dreams, I did as I was supposed to do to get where I wanted to get. I graduated high school, got a bachelors and obtained my masters by the age of 23. I had even gotten married and was pregnant with my son, but I found myself scratching my head like, “…Is this it?”
Working 9-5 certainly wasn’t the satisfaction I was looking for. Beyond that I began to realize, for me, 9-5 living made for a passive existence. I’m not about punching the clock to go home, cook, watch tv, sleep and having to turn around to do it again the next day. Not only was it depressing, but I didn’t have time to dream, far less act on those dreams. That just wasn’t the life I had imagined.
I thought, “If this is what this 9-5 life is doing to me and I’m nothing short of a dreamer, then this must be others experience as well.” Believing that my life was supposed to be about living to my full potential and inspiring that in others, I wanted to create a venue…or springboard from which people can develop themselves and live an active existence in which they experience true life satisfaction.
Have the women in your group experienced what you imagined they would as part of the group?
Definitely! We have members who have gone back to school and pursued PhDs, completed Bachelors degrees, started businesses, completed books, started families, changed careers, run for local office, traveled internationally, etc. And I don’t list, “accomplishments” because they define us or are markers of self-worth, but because these were goals that these women had, that for some reason or other they put aside, quieted or didn’t act on. Actually, some of these women had never even dreamed as big. Yet and still, I think the biggest successes are that we have women that are happy with their lives, feeling content as they are matching the woman they believe they are, or are well on that journey towards her. But also note, I wouldn’t be so grandiose as to say that these successes were solely due to E3. I believe these women are attracted to us for a reason. Just about every person that has joined us has said to me in some form or another, “I was looking for something like this.” This means to me, they were well on their way and we only play a small role in helping them in their self actualization journey.
I think we, as a group, communicate to each other, “I hear you,” “I appreciate you,” “you’re worthy,” and “we’re in this together.”
As a leader what was the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your own journey with this group?
I’m a very structured person. While, I do think the group exists 7 years later because of this, I’ve learned that this groups success has less to do with “structure,” and more to do with atmosphere. It’s funny, because I used to put a lot of time in-in regards to planning our sessions,”What are we going to do? What are we going to talk about?”, but what I learned is that this group is who they are just because we are together. That’s it…just because we are together. One of our guiding philosophies is a quote from Marianne Williamson, “When we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” We are who we are because members look at each other, and in essence are given, “permission to do the same.”
In addition to that, the group expands each person’s support system. We have a personal cheering squad, and at other times, we have those who will join arms and mourn with us when we have lost.
I know at one time you were considering letting Empowered To the Third Degree close, but then you decided to keep it going. What did you do to turn around the fate of the organization? Where is it now?
Yes, I was considering closing the doors at once. People’s lives had experienced so much change: some had gotten married, some were trying to have children, some were in school, and because of that there was less consistency from group members. So, I thought, “ok, maybe we’ve accomplished our aim. I’m completely fine with ending the group.” These inconsistencies went on for months but each time we held meetings about it, the women asked me not to end it. They said that they didn’t want it to end because the group was such a great resource for them. So I complied.
To turn it around some, I began looking at us as a group and realized, the truth was we had all grown so much. Not to mention I was 26 when I started. I was now in my 30’s. I felt that it was time to draw in younger women and share what we’d learned…and that changed things around 100% for a few reasons, but it also makes us yet more true to our slogan, “empower me, empower you, empower us,” as strength is supposed to be shared.