Almost everyday life offers me the opportunity to speak up for myself, and I’m left with one of two options: shy away, or take the opportunity. Depending on the situation, speaking up for myself normally makes my hands shake and head race around with fears. The most prevalent of which is: “If I say this thing I really need to say, this person will hate me."
Let's examine that for a moment, shall we?
This person will hate me. Ouch! That would be an unfortunate turn of events. However, I think most of the time it is unlikely. Maybe at first, after saying what I need to say someone will be uncomfortable, especially if what I have to say is a comment on their behavior or beliefs. They may act out on this uncomfortable feeling, they may not. But given time to process, they may just learn something new about themselves, who's to say. At the very least, I will not hate me because I have chosen to do the thing that is in my integrity to do, speak up for myself. This is the most important part.
So, then the work becomes two-fold:
1. Try to not make the experience better for the person who I need to speak to. This means no overly explaining myself. No saying “but I know you meant....” or “ I understand it’s not your fault…” or giving them 10 years of backstory, you get the idea. People are responsible for the way they handle things, period. It is no longer up to me, up to us, to protect them in our need to speak our truth. To this point, 99.99% of the time I am giving feedback, offering a suggestion, or saying what I need to say, it is not personal to who I am talking to. It is personal to myself, on a mission to bring all of me to the table, every. damn. day.
2. This also means not taking their reaction personally, another hard task on this mission. The only catch to this is that once we speak up, it is not their job to make us feel better either. We may be so resentful, weary, or anxious to say what we need to say, but once we say it, everyone is off the hook. So, if you say that hard thing you need to say, and you say it in a way that aligns with your integrity and they respond with anger, fear, or doubt, that is about them, not about you. Then, we are free to bow ourselves out of the process and wish them the best.
Recently, I had a hard email to send. I typed out my request, without trying to overly explain myself, read it over for any major grammatical errors, then hit send before I could convince myself not to. I took a breath, then I had to walk away. I went and got a glass of water, and I returned to my work as best as I could. When I got a prompt reply, the person was lovely and agreed to my request. Even amidst their total loveliness, I wanted to explain myself all over again, to control their experience of me. “Thank you for accommodating my needs, to be clear I didn’t think...” or “Thanks for understanding, I really appreciate it because…” basically I wanted to scream “ARE YOU MAD AT ME NOW EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE BEING REASONABLE?!”
There you go, now you know my innermost neurotic thoughts. But if I could just explain to you why I’m like this then you’ll really understand where I’m coming fr…. No, no. No longer explaining myself. Replacing the habit of explaining myself with a deep breath and speaking up instead.
Here’s the thing, we will likely not remember those small specific moments in time of speaking up for ourselves. But, over time, it’s like adding a piece of paper to a stack every day, eventually, you will have a pile. Over time, the edges will soften, and using our voices will no longer be as edgy, and one day, maybe, the fear of our precious truth will be long gone, an afterthought, a vague memory. And our tongues will thank us at the end of our lives for letting them do their work of connecting our head and heart to the outside world.