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Being Your Own Advocate

Posted: June 2, 2011

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Pic credit: Alban Gonzalez (Used under a CC license)


Cee Kay is a mother of two girls, a networking professional, a cooking enthusiast and

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  1. LOVED this Cee Kay! Pretty relevant as I just emerged from a project situation where I did stand up for myself, push right back very politely and blew my own trumpet. It felt good, but like you I often let people walk all over me and make unfair accusations before I say, “That’s not acceptable.” I’m bookmarking this to remind me for next time, BEFORE I get upset!

    • Thanks Starry! I don’t know why, but I used to associate standing up for myself with confronting others. Then I realized it didn’t need to be so. I CAN stand up for myself without getting into a confrontation – I just need to be firm yet polite.

  2. Great read, loved those points, especially 1 and 2 – the biggest learnings of my professional life. Also 4 & 5. Well, all I guess 🙂

    I am not sure whether it is gender-specific though. I have come across several men who go/have gone through this, including the spouse. I thought it was because of the values the family believed in. Seemed to me that some of us – both men and women – have been told not to brag, that our actions should speak for themselves, karam karo don’t worry about the phal and all that. I have actually even given feedback some male team members that they need to work on visibility and perception management, while some others needed no help in that department 😉

    • Sorry for the late reply everyone.

      Arundhati, maybe you are right – maybe it isn’t totally gender specific. But I have seen that it is expected more of girls and women. An ideal woman is quiet and hardworking and her hardwork comes to the fore when it is recognized by the elders of the house. If she brags or talks about it, it is considered to tarnish her efforts because it reeks of egoism. A man, on the other hand, appears confident and capable when he talks about his capabilities and accomplishments.

  3. Well said. Point no.1 in particular. women tend to be scared to acknowledge their worth even to themselves. Believe me if one does not stand up and speak he/she is bound to be ignored. I learnt my lesson the hard way and even now I haven’t learned to give myself due credit. it seems wrong to do so. Social conditioning is the culprit.

    • Hip Grandma: Sorry for the delayed reply. It is so true – it seems so wrong to talk about what we do. It is a fine line between being/sounding proud of our accomplishments and coming across as an egoist or exhibitionist.

  4. So true!..Esp point number one and two…
    “This made me nervous about asking confidently for a salary that I knew I deserved. I faltered”…this could be me…

  5. “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.”

    You could be speaking about me. It is horrible, really crippling!

    What my life needs is a shakeup.

    • JUSTME: I am very sorry for the delayed reply. And I am really very sorry to read about the frustration you feel. What you need is more support from your near and dear ones. Are you married?

  6. Only yesterday I was told by two people who have known me for years that I’m too submissive (they knew me when I wasn’t). I told them I don’t enjoy the trouble and would rather keep the peace even if it means backing off.

    The truth is, I’m already fighting too many smaller battles that most people aren’t even aware of. Those consume me too much for me to fight the bigger ones, do you know what I mean? And I resent everything about this situation.

    All I know is I’m not going into my 30s like this. Posts like yours stiffens my spine. 😉

    • Sue: I know what you mean. Many hugs for what you are going through. You are way ahead of where I was when I was your age. I think it is a rite of passage – we go through this phase to find the balance that we gain later.

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