Speaking up is worth the risk
I sat on the subway and overheard two female students discuss a professor’s tendency to challenge his students.
Their conclusion: “just don’t say anything and you’ll pass.”
Like most of us, these girls were wrestling with a question that exists not just in school and work but in almost every area of life:
How much do I show of me?
Their answer was the safe answer: as little as possible.
Before you judge, think about your own life. How many times have you accepted mediocrity in exchange for the safety that comes with staying quiet?
If you can relate to the desire to keep some part(s) of yourself hidden -- if it seems easier to stay quiet -- I want to tell you two things:
1. Showing up & speaking up can be scary as shit.
2. It’s totally worth it.
To cover yourself, to hide, to camouflage, to be quiet when the world needs your voice;
to save your vibrant thoughts and ideas and pain and realness for the ‘safe zones’;
to keep your flawed and messy self tucked away like a secret stash of art that you hope someone might discover when you’re dead…
…that is to miss out on who you are.
See, it’s not about the other people. Talking to other people, telling them your story, sharing a real and vulnerable piece of the conversation: you’re not just doing it for them.
When you meet other people as yourself, they don’t just meet you: you meet you.
The payoff is huge but so is the risk. Like the students said, if you open your mouth, you might fail.
Your teacher, your boss, your colleagues, your friends, even your family might not like your ideas; they might not share your sense of humour; they might not be comfortable with your self-honesty; they might not even want to hear you speak at all.
Or maybe they will. Maybe it will just take them some time to get there.
Either way: scary.
And that’s why this is so important.
Sometimes when I talk about self-storytelling, people caution me pretty quickly against the deadly over-share. “Not everyone wants to hear your life story,” they say. Heaven forbid you be branded with TMI.
That fear is kind of like when a nutritionist suggests a diet based on ‘moderation,’ and the immediate reaction is: without rules, what if I eat everything in sight?
Or when a psychologist suggests self-compassion and the reaction is: without self-criticism, how will I motivate myself to get anything done?
Are you afraid that if you open up your mouth you won’t be able to stop talking? That everyone will hear all the gritty details of your life, and you’ll become a subject of legendary water-cooler gossip for years to come?
Well, first off: your gossip probably isn’t as juicy as you think it is. Sorry.
Secondly: You’re afraid, and that’s valid. Your worst fears probably won’t happen. But what if they do? Those girls who just wanted to pass the course? They might be right: shutting up might be the safest route to a passing grade. Speaking up might get you an F.
If you feel that in some way you are being called to speak up, to share a little bit more of yourself with the world, then you are going to have to take on that risk.
Sharing who you are does not necessarily mean having a permanent case of the can’t-shut-ups.
Instead, it means you:
- Find the ways to express yourself appropriately but honestly
- Learn to claim space in a discussion
- Put words to the stuff buried inside
- Discover forums that will help you build and share your voice and use it for good
- Connect with people who not only listen but really hear you
- Trust yourself to be ‘you’ in any context, while still being respectful of others (and lose the fear of ‘over-sharing’)
- Practice self-compassion when you feel vulnerable after speaking up
- Improve your listening skills and get out of your own head
Like the students said, by saying nothing, you might get a pass. You might get to go through the motions of life. You may or may not avoid extra pain.
Life isn’t just about making the grade. If you want more than a D-minus kind of life, you’re going to have to take some risks.
I hope you will show us who you are.