Shola’s Note: Hey Solutionists! In my effort to introduce you to some amazing people who are working hard to make this world a more positive place, I have a treat for you! On this month’s Solutionist Spotlight, I have the honor of presenting career strategist, positivity enthusiast and corporate trainer extraordinaire, Sherry Dodge. Besides being an excellent writer, speaker and overall human being, she is also one of the most positive people I have ever known in my 40 years on this earth. So, without further ado, here’s Sherry!
If you’re anything like me, there have been times in your life when you have had trouble speaking up.
Maybe it was telling your boss that you’re not able to work late, or telling your friend how you really feel about the new person they’re dating, or committing to that social event that you really don’t want to go to but feel obligated to go to anyway.
Or maybe it was something really simple, like not speaking up about where you want to go for dinner.
So often, we make the choice not to speak up. And we do it because we are thinking about all of the potential consequences that might occur if we do speak up.
- What if she gets mad when I share my true opinion and it challenges her opinion?
- What if there will be a really uncomfortable awkward silence after I tell him how I really feel?
- What if I come across sounding stupid, or worse, incompetent?
- What if I get rejected?
- What if there is a long-lasting consequence to what I say that means my life is going to be changed…forever?
We can come up with “what-ifs” for days.
Unfortunately, “what-ifs” typically prevent us from taking action. They cause us to focus on the worst-case scenario–and that builds fear which can be paralyzing.
The truth is, we are not great at predicting the future. As hard as we try to predict every possible reaction or outcome, we often aren’t very accurate anyway.
Now, I am the first person to say that I tend to over-analyze everything.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give careful thought and consideration to how you live and what you say, and to consider potential consequences, but, at a certain point, the “what-ifs” start to take over, and they serve as excuses for not facing our fears. They become excuses for keeping things status quo.
That is a dangerous place to be because it makes us feel stuck. Our own thoughts prevent us from taking action.
The Price of Not Speaking Up
We spend so much time worrying about the things that might happen if we speak our minds that we don’t always take the time to consider what might happen if we don’t speak up! For example:
- Putting up with behavior that you don’t want in your life for so long that, over time, it becomes your new “normal”
- Resenting people or situations
- Making the decisions that you think others want you to make…until it gets to the point that you have made everybody else happy except yourself
- Not allowing others to benefit and learn from hearing your unique perspective
- Holding things inside for so long that the prolonged stress affects your physical health and well-being
- Being the peace-maker in your relationships even though you, yourself, are not at peace
- Allowing great, creative ideas to pass you by
- Not letting others get to know the real, authentic you
I don’t know about you, but I always tend to regret the things I didn’t say more than the things I did.
I’ve had so many times when I didn’t speak up in that meeting even though I had a great idea to share, or I didn’t listen to my intuition when it told me to say “no,” or I didn’t tell someone what I really felt for fear of hurting their feelings.
And I always think back on those times and wish that I had just found the courage to say something.
One year ago this month, I made the decision to make a theme my life for the upcoming year. That theme was “Finding My Voice.” I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t have any more of those moments where I avoided speaking up because it was the easy thing to do. I decided that I was going to put forth the most honest, authentic version of myself that I could–and see what happens.
Did I feel fear? You bet!
In the beginning, I was very cautious and hesitant. I did feel that I was far outside of my comfort zone and I had to deal with some butterflies in my stomach on almost a daily basis, but I also quickly discovered that I was my own biggest obstacle. I had been getting in my own way!
Most of my “what-ifs” never came true, nor did I ever once regret sharing what I really felt. The more I started speaking up, the easier it became, the fewer butterflies I felt, and the less I allowed the fear to control me.
There are three specific fears that kept coming up time and time again (and still come up) that I have had to work through and continue to work through. I want to share a little bit about them, and what I have learned about them, in case you are feeling them too.
1) The Fear of Being Judged
I have always had a fear of being judged and it started back in middle school.
Kids can be mean and can make you feel horrible for having braces, the wrong hair style, or “uncool” shoes (I know this from experience). From a very early age many of us were focused on fitting in and not standing out. We learn to “modify” who we really are to avoid drawing attention to ourselves and to avoid humiliation or embarrassment.
I think that even as adults most of us want to fit in and be accepted. Many of us constantly seek approval from others and are more than willing to sacrifice our individuality and change ourselves to fit the mold. It is easier than standing out.
But the funny thing about judgment is that it says so much more about the person who is doing the judging than the one who is being judged.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that whatever judgment is being made has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person making the judgment. We often place more value on the other person’s opinion than on our own.
So, the questions I had to ask myself were, “Do I think that person’s opinion is more valuable than my own?” and “If not, then why am I giving away my power and allowing that person’s opinion to so strongly influence my words, my choices, my decisions and my life?”
Especially when, most of the time, we don’t know for certain what the other person is thinking anyway!
Think about that–we worry about judgments that aren’t even happening. So much of it is in our own heads.
Someone once told me that FEAR stood for “False Expectations Appearing Real.” Our insecurities and expectations of others lead us to create stories about what others are thinking and feeling, but until we actually ask them, we can’t be certain. Our minds are very good at making our stories feel like reality even when they’re not.
I now make an effort to catch myself when I’m telling those kinds of stories and change them into something that is more realistic and more positive. For example, instead of assuming the worst (“She isn’t going to like what I have to say and I’m dreading having the conversation”) I turn it into a positive (“She is really going to benefit from hearing what I have to say because I have a unique and valuable perspective and I care about her.”)
Focusing on positive reactions and outcomes instead of negative ones helps us to move beyond all of the paralyzing “what-ifs” and pushes us in the direction of taking action.
2) The Fear of Saying “No”
This has been a big one for me. Such a small little word, but it causes so much grief!
When we think of telling someone “no” we often associate negative outcomes: disappointment, letting someone down, not being a team player, making someone upset, hurting someone’s feelings…just negativity all around.
But looking at it another way, “no” is a word of discernment. It means we are making a choice, setting a boundary, or saying, “that doesn’t work for me.” We have a right to express what is, or is not, in our best interest and create boundaries that are healthy for us and reflect our values.
The word “no” allows us to do that.
Have you ever said “yes” to something you didn’t want to do and then resent it later? Maybe it’s time to say “no” to the work that no longer inspires you, the friend who really drains you, or the social event that you’re dreading attending. It’s time to be very honest with yourself about what is enhancing your life and what is detracting from it.
Instead of focusing on the negative impact that “no” might have, I try to look at it more positively:
“No” is my way of taking personal responsibility, staying on track with my own goals, managing my time and surrounding myself with people who respect me.
“No” is a way that we can let people know what we will and will not accept.
Shola often says, “What we allow is what will continue.” What a great way to look at personal power and responsibility and get out of the habit of blaming others for our unhealthy relationships, bad habits, unfulfilling jobs, etc. If we have allowed it to happen and have not spoken up or taken action to change it, we can’t very well blame anyone else.
“No” tells others who we are and what we value. It protects us from being taken advantage of and helps us to stay true to what we want out of life. This applies to most decisions we make, both big and small. We can usually feel in our guts when we make decisions that aren’t true to ourselves.
Listen carefully to that gut feeling and don’t be afraid to say “no” to something that doesn’t feel right.
3) The Fear of Change
“What if my life changes as a result of speaking up?”
“What if I’m not ready for that change?”
Honestly, you will probably never feel ready. I have never felt 100% ready for anything I’ve done in life that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Giving a presentation to a large audience, rock climbing for the first time, approaching a good friend with a major concern…I’ve never really felt ready for any of these things.
But I did them anyway.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man [or woman] is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear. ” — Nelson Mandela
One of the most important things I’ve learned about fear is that it doesn’t just go away by itself.
No matter how much you mentally prepare for something, the fear will likely still be there. I have found that action is the only thing that makes my fear start to go away. When you make the decision to face your fears and just jump in, everything changes.
We are afraid of the unknown, of things we aren’t familiar with. Leaning into that fear and taking action anyway, even if it’s just small baby steps, starts to make a lot of those unknowns go away, because as we experience the unknown, it becomes familiar and oftentimes becomes less scary. This allows us to gradually develop confidence and gets down to the root of what was causing the fear in the first place.
The anticipation of change is one of the scary unknowns.
Being true to yourself will often result in real, visible changes in your life, including some that you didn’t anticipate. If you start interacting with people in a more honest and authentic way, that is likely going to change your relationship with your friends, your family and your colleagues.
There will be some people who cheer you on and support your efforts but there’s also a chance that not everyone is going to like that change or be ready for it. Certain people may be used to you acting/reacting/responding in a certain way, and when you break out of that mold, it may be uncomfortable for them. Some relationships may even gradually fade away and be replaced by others that are better suited for you.
This is a good thing.
The changes that do happen are likely to be aligned with the real, authentic you. The you that values yourself and stands up for yourself. The you that knows what type of behavior you will or will not accept. The you that isn’t afraid to say what you really feel.
How can that be a bad thing?
When you start transforming yourself, your life will transform along with you! And, the more you express your true self, the more you grant others permission to do the same. Any forward progress that moves you and others closer to authenticity is empowering and positive.
Speaking up is a choice, and it’s a powerful choice, because it is the way we express our individuality, set boundaries and share with the world all that we have to offer.
What are you waiting for?
Sherry Dodge is a passionate corporate trainer, coach and positivity enthusiast based in Los Angeles, CA. In her work at UCLA, she aims to empower and inspire individuals to achieve their full potential, both personally and professionally. She loves outdoor adventures and spends her spare time surfing, rock climbing, swimming, white water rafting and seeking new travel adventures.
Do you struggle finding your voice? Have you ever experienced the consequences of not speaking up when you knew that should? If so, jump into the comments and make your voice heard! (See what I did there?)