I recently organised a playdate for my daughter with a new friend from nursery. Cue the ‘getting to know you’ small talk with another Mum. It’s so weird, isn’t it, trying to make friends with someone purely because you procreated and the resultant mini-me’s made friends. Thankfully, said Mum was very easy to talk to and very accommodating of my mini-me asking for one of her friend’s snacks. My initial reaction on the other hand, had been to tell her that she can’t keep asking for people to share their food with her (this was about the 3rd snack her friend had shared!); but reflecting on it later I wondered what was so wrong with her asking for what she wanted? She wasn’t rude, she was incredibly polite actually, and it’s not like she was asking for anything unreasonable. Why should she feel bad for asking for the snack?
Aside from another “OMG what impact will that have had on her when she’s an adult” internal musing, it also prompted me to question when it became a problem to ask for what you want? When did getting what you want become associated with being selfish or uncaring, to the extent that we stop even asking for it? When did getting what you want become associated with other people having to lose out, and because the worst thing we can do as women is inconvenience anyone else, we don’t even ask the question? Isn’t there enough for all of us?
Seen and not heard
I remember as a young girl being told by the woman who baby sat me after school that girls should be seen and not heard. Even then I disagreed. However, many of the women I work with tell me this is something that goes back to the classroom – the thought of putting their hand up to speak filled them with fear, and they experienced pure dread at the prospect of having to read aloud. How does this happen? That even in school there is a fear associated with being seen and heard?
I don’t know the answer, but I know the impact. Personally and anecdotally. Many times I’ve felt myself holding back what I really think. Sitting in meetings feeling so uncomfortable with expressing my opinion that my heart starts racing, my mind jumbles and what comes out is some watered down expression of my truth that I replay over and over in my head as I try to go to sleep at night. Holding back from challenging the status quo for fear of being shown to be stupid because of course there’s something I haven’t considered, or having to cope with confrontation or justifying my position. It’s why I like writing to be honest, because there’s a delete button. Too many times I’ve sat awake at night wishing I could have said something differently because how it came out will make them think that I’m *insert worst possible thing someone could think of me*.
None of your business
But why is other people’s opinion so important? What’s so wrong with someone having a ‘bad’ opinion of you? Because the truth is, we can’t control how other people perceive us. Their perceptions are theirs. What’s that saying? What other people think of you is none of your business. The only thing you can really do is be yourself, and part of that is being OK with asking for what you want. Here’s the thing though – to express yourself fully you have to believe that what you have to say is worth saying. You’ve got to know you’ve got a contribution to make. You’ve got to feel that even if it comes out wrong, even if there’s a tumbleweed moment, even if no one agrees, you’ll be OK. Because you spoke your truth, and your truth doesn’t belong to anyone else. Nor does it need anyone else’s validation.
If you find yourself holding back expressing what you really want, here are some things you could try:
- Think it forward. Chances are, the thing you’re not saying hasn’t been said for a while. Only you’ll know how long. Imagine yourself 6 months from now and you still haven’t said it. What’s it like? Has the issue disappeared or is it still there? If it’s still there, how willing are you to make that your reality? Because (and I know you know this), if you don’t do something differently now, that IS going to be your reality.
- Rehearse a positive outcome. I bang on about this a lot, but your brain in all its gloriousness is pretty lazy to be honest. It’ll go with the easiest option, and the easiest option might just be assuming the worst and staying put. However, you can trick your brain into thinking that what you want to do is in fact easy by simply imagining it going well.
- Play to your real superpower. So look, it’s highly unlikely that you’re a mind reader. Don’t waste your time trying to interpret what someone’s thinking or how they might react, that’s not what you do well. Instead, use your strength to get your point across. It’s likely that what you’ve got to say isn’t being said, right? That means it’s worth saying.
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