Woman sitting on a rock overlooking a valley

What Does it Mean to Be Emboldened?

Have you ever become so enamored with a word or phrase or saying that it stayed with you, like a song you can’t get out of your head? That happened to me recently when I gave my website a much-needed overhaul.

If you like the new look, most of that credit goes to the talented web designer I hired. But the content–the words and concepts and vision–is all mine, and it took hours and hours of staring at the screen and the ceiling to figure out exactly what message I wanted to convey. 

In the process, I came up with the phrase that grabbed me. As a writer, I loved the alliteration. As a recovering people-pleaser, I loved how it made me feel. I was smitten.

“Becoming emboldened.”

It’s so me.

Even before I looked up the definition, emboldened felt different to me than empowered, a buzzword popularized in the 1980s (and overused today, in my opinion).

In the context of the transformation I’ve made in the past few years, emboldened feels at once more outwardly active and more internal than empowered. 

Actively emboldened.

To me, emboldened suggests acting with courage. Empowered feels almost passive–a change in status from an inability to accomplish a goal (often due to external forces) to the ability, but with no action implied.

In my journey of recovering from people-pleasing, being emboldened gave me the courage to ask the Roto-Rooter guy unclogging our kitchen sink to pull up his mask. Asking didn’t phase me a bit. And, at the end of a 2-hour virtual meeting, I said goodbye because I was Zoomed-out, and I didn’t care what the others thought. And, although my friends felt safe eating out, I said, “I’m not ready,” with no excuses or regrets.

These interactions may not sound courageous, but for those of us afflicted with the disease to please, acting in our own self-interest is a big deal.

Internally emboldened.

In previous years, when I imagined myself out and about in the world, my fear of conflict was part of the picture. It might be visible, such as nodding in agreement to avoid an argument. Or it might be invisible, no one other than me aware I was saying yes while my heart screamed NO.

Part of my transformation has been that the woman I picture today is less afraid. And there’s a quality of change that can’t be easily captured. It’s like when people immersed in a new language begin to dream in that language–they know the language has become part of them, and they see themselves differently. That’s how I feel–I’m a different person than I was.

Inside, I feel stronger, as if my previous core was made of cardboard, and now it’s made of brick. It feels more solid—it won’t collapse as easily. It’s not yet steel, but someday it will be, without a doubt.

These impressions came to me before I had opened Merriam-Webster, and after I did, I realized why I had become so smitten:

The definition of embolden

  • Embolden means “to instill with boldness, courage, or resolution enough to overcome timidity or misgiving.”

Timidity is a word I’ve used to describe my people-pleasing. Just as embolden felt so right, timid felt so wrong. Overcoming it has been my quest, my self-work, my purpose.

And my purpose in sharing my stories is that you become emboldened, too. Learn more about how you can join me on my journey. No obligation, no cost. Just you and me creating and living our best lives.

Not sure? Read more of my story to get to know me. I’d love to get to know you, too. Together, we can take our eyes off the ceiling and see a new path before us.


  1. Jack Herlocker on March 5, 2021 at 12:45 PM

    Hi Karen-
    Like the layout, like the thumbnail photo of you at the bottom (apologies if you’ve used it before, it’s new to me).
    Your comment about your old core being made of cardboard made me want to respond (geek reflex) “but cardboard can be very strong!” Yes… until it gets wet. So actually that would play into your metaphor, since a core that seems strong in good weather might turn to mush in a storm. Brick, OTOH, withstands rain, sleet, cold, heat…

    • Karen DeBonis on March 5, 2021 at 2:27 PM

      You’re so perceptive, Jack–it is a new thumbnail photo. And your geek reflex is correct–cardboard IS stronger than you’d think–that’s one of the lessons I learned. Still-I’m laying the bricks one by one, as life ain’t over yet, and I want to be prepared.

  2. Eileen Vorbach Collins on March 5, 2021 at 12:58 PM

    I love this post. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the word ’emboldened’ but it has a certain flavor. I may try it sometime. Sneak it in during casual conversation. “I’m feeling emboldened by watching those smiling parachuters. I’m going to give it a try.”

    • Karen DeBonis on March 5, 2021 at 2:30 PM

      I don’t think I’d ever used it either, Eileen. I sense that you are more “emboldened” where I am more “becoming,” and I’m glad to have you as a role-model. Just don’t expect me to go sky diving!

      • Gail Boenning on March 6, 2021 at 2:54 PM

        Ha! I agree with Jack. The new thumbnail photo is fantastic!

        This post is full of catchy energy Karen. I love your use and explanation of emboldened.

        • Karen DeBonis on March 6, 2021 at 4:27 PM

          Thanks Gail! It’s funny about “emboldened.” After I became smitten, on a whim, I posted a question on Twitter asking people for their impressions of the word, and they were mostly negative. But for me it feels so right. I’m sticking with it!

  3. Joanne Lopez Kepes on March 5, 2021 at 11:15 PM

    Hi Karen, I enjoy and appreciate the description you give of growing out of your timidity and becoming embolden.. My image is of a flower gradually opening and unfurling an array of petals and color! I too am slowly growing toward that goal, believe it or not. Never too old😊Joanne

    • Karen DeBonis on March 6, 2021 at 8:41 AM

      I love the imagery, Joanne! And what a role model you are for other women–to continue your journey of personal growth. You are NEVER too old!

  4. Paula Ransbury on March 7, 2021 at 12:49 PM

    Terrific post Karen and I really like the new clean and easy-to-navigate layout. Exploring it all was quite enjoyable and I must say, not only do you look terrific, but your journey is inspiring. Clearly there is no stopping emboldened you! 😃 I will happily continue to follow learning as much as I can along the way.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 7, 2021 at 2:19 PM

      I’m glad you like the site and my post, Paula! And I’m grateful for your companionship on my journey.

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