I am 40. It took me this many years to learn to stand up for myself. And even now, I am not fully there yet. I still, sometimes, need to remind myself to think of me instead of the other person. My first reaction is still to blame myself if I get in a conflict with someone. I am still too timid to speak up about what I want or things that bother me. And when I catch myself doing that, I wonder why it is so? Why is it easy for men to say Well, he/she is an a-hole when they get in a conflict while women say I must have done or said something to elicit that response from him/her ?
What is it that makes us this way? Our upbringing? Maybe. Our inherent nature? I doubt that. Social conditioning? YES! I cannot remember the number of times I have been told by one particular female relative that, being a woman, it is my supreme duty to a) tolerate everything, b) put others first, c) keep my mouth shut. You subject a woman to years of that sermon, along with taking her independence away by forbidding her from working, making her financially dependent and telling her all the time that she is good only because you are good to her (which implies no matter what she does, her efforts can never be exceptional or applaud-worthy) and what do you get? A broken woman who think she is good for nothing. A woman who takes years to realize that she got the jobs that she got (when she finally went out to work) because she was wanted for her skills and not because the employers were out to do charity.
The good thing is that I finally realized it even though it is still a struggle to accept compliments because somewhere deep down I don t believe I deserve them. I know I am a capable, efficient professional but you ask me to stand up and defend that and I might just refuse. And that has hurt me in a lot of ways.
This made me nervous about asking confidently for a salary that I knew I deserved. I faltered. It made me question myself when it was time for salary, vacation and responsibility negotiations. It made me stay quiet under hostile work conditions. It made me cry in front of people who made me uncomfortable (and I hate this part the most). It set me back, professionally, by at least 2-3 years because I always made excuses for the other party to not give me what I deserved.
Luckily for me, I met a few very strong women at work who taught me how to stand up for myself, how to value myself and how to make others value me. These are strong women I admire greatly. One is a single mom of two, the second is married and has 3 kids and the third one is unmarried with no kids. One is younger than I am, the second is about my age and the third is probably old enough to be an aunt. They are all very different from each other but the one thing they have in common is grit and courage and a truck load of self-confidence. I ll try and put, into words, what these women have taught me by example about being my own advocate (because no one else will if I won t).
- Don’t undervalue what you do. Know the true worth of your work. Have confidence in your work. You are thorough? Take pride in that. You have great people skills? Not everyone does, so be proud that you do. Find that strength of yours and hone it. Sell it THAT is what the second point is.
- Advertise your good work. I was na ve in the beginning. I thought people will notice my good work. Well, no one notices really good wallflowers. My biggest mistake was in believing that if I worked hard and accomplished something (say, a tough server upgrade REMOTELY on a WEEKEND, ready by the time first shift came to work) it would be conveyed to the top as MY accomplishment. It wasn t. It was conveyed as a Team effort accomplished under the able guidance of the team leader. Now I know that a subtle email or a quick conversation to/with someone to let them know of the work I did is not shameless bragging. It is taking ownership of my work and showing pride in it.
- Do not get overwhelmed by people trying to bulldoze you into accepting their misdirected authority. I learned that slightly better than the rest of the lessons. My leonine personality helped. Once, during a business-stopping emergency, a coworker tried to bulldoze me into accepting his lead and report to him on the progress of the work being done. He was from a different department and had absolutely NO idea of what was going on and what was involved in the troubleshooting of the matter. I stewed for a couple of hours but finally found the courage and tact to tell him that I will keep him updated with what directly concerned him and for other updates he could contact my supervisor . In addition, I kept the right people in the organization updated regarding the situation so I didn t come across as someone who was trying to maintain unnecessary control or stonewalling all offers of help.
- Develop interpersonal skills. Take classes if you have to. I didn t have to I got thrown into enough situations to get on the job training . Plus, these three women I mentioned earlier, helped me by setting great examples of dealing with difficult bosses and coworkers, of standing up for themselves and each other.
- Find a mentor. It helps if one can find at least one person who is willing to lend you their ears and help you figure out tricky situations by being your sounding board. Ask for help when you need it it doesn t make you weak. This was the toughest one for me to learn. Shortfalls of a leonine personality
I will add more to this post if I remember something else. But these are the lessons I have learned in my short career that I still implement in my professional (and personal) life.