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The power of voice

I stood in the hallway of an unfamiliar building, not sure where to go and noticing the time. No one was around.  “Darn it! I don’t want to be late. Managers get to meetings early.” As I shuffled through my notebook to find the printed Microsoft Outlook invitation hoping to find the room number, I saw a sentence instructing attendees to plan to provide a one minute introduction about themselves.  “Great (sarcasm)! How did I miss that? I didn’t prepare anything. I’m going to have to wing it AGAIN. It’ll be ok. One minute isn’t long. I’ll think of something on the elevator ride up.”

I got off the elevator to find 3 familiar faces and each appeared lost. No one knew how to get to the conference room. I felt relieved I wasn’t alone.  After a few minutes of confusion, another familiar, smiling face appeared and guided us to our destination.  At the entry to the room, I laid eyes on who will become my new tribe of professionals: managers, directors, and officials. “Do I belong here? Absolutely.”

There were about 30 of us crammed in a small conference room. This was the first meeting of its kind. The introductions commenced, and to my dread, they were starting at my table plus we each had to stand up.  As an introvert, I’m usually uncomfortable talking about myself. I decided, “I can do this” as I have many times. However, the stakes were higher this time because of who was in the room. I recalled my boss telling me in the past, “It’s time to shine.” I always resented her telling me that because I shine on my own accord, not by command or pressure. My boss was in the room, at my table. Even though I had my elevator speech ready, thankfully, the facilitator decided to go to the other tables, so I would almost be the last person to speak. I claimed my stake and told myself that I would be relaxed and make an impression. As I listened to the years of experience, wit, and honesty, I began to feel inspired and privileged to be in the room. 

With each person that spoke, I’d think of something else I wanted to say about myself and add it to my imaginary list. By the time they came to me, I was poised and relaxed. For a moment, I questioned my attire, particularly my top, because when I stood up eyes seemed to have laid on the tie at the base of my denim blouse.  I was imagining curious looks. I knew I needed to call attention to my words not my attire so I amped it up.  I blocked out the thought about my blouse because let’s face it, I couldn’t do anything about it at that point. It was a cute. It just didn’t look as conservative as shirts other people were wearing. I said a couple of things that made people laugh, even my boss. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I felt exhilarated after the meeting.

This true story is a snapshot of my Friday this week. The meeting lasted four hours.  I’m sharing because I want to emphasize how important a positive inner “voice” or “self-talk” is. What are you telling yourself? Sure, I have moments of insecurity and doubt, but they are fleeting moments.  Sure, I put pressure on myself, but I stay focused on the big picture. Overwhelmingly, I talk myself through until I get the positive outcome I, not only desire, but have already imagined in my mind.  If it doesn’t happen that moment, I work hard not to don’t beat myself up by saying “It’ll be ok.”  I try again the next day.

I believe that most people wouldn’t tell their best friends the negative things that many say to themselves. I view my internal voice as my best friend who is looking out for me and loves me. Now, I have to work on listening to ensure she (my voice/self-talk) is feeding me positive thoughts and telling me the truth.  For some, it can be oddly comfortable to wallow in negative emotions and self-talk.  We might not even notice the negative mumbles, which is why it takes self-awareness to do this work. It also takes courage. 

Be courageous and claim your stake in your life. Do the work of being the best version of yourself. Get to know yourself. Challenge yourself. You’re worth it.

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Say yes

Last week’s blog post was about learning to say “no”.  My focus this week will be on learning to say “yes” when you really want to say no. “Why the switch?”, you might be wondering.  I can best explain with a scenario that happened last week.  Now, I don’t discuss my current job much because as I’ve said before, I’m not sure how much I can divulge in this forum.  (I need to look into that soon.) I will say that I work in public mental health policy.  As such, a part of my many duties include making presentations to internal and external stakeholders.  I made a presentation last week about the proposed future of some of our projects to a group of stakeholders and it was well received.  What on earth does this have to do with saying “yes”? Well, my ability to say “yes” over and over again in situations that took me out of my comfort zone, landed me in my current professional position where I mostly operate out of my comfort zone.  Over the years, I have soaked in all of the uncomfortable experiences like a sponge, and as a result, have grown exponentially.

I am an introvert/extrovert (ambivert), leaning more toward introvert because I am best refueled in solitude and I constantly process internally.  I can also dance like nobody is watching in front of a crowd of people (Yes, I am also a licensed Zumba fitness instructor). Society nowadays values extroversion, especially in the business world, which is contrary to how a lot of people operate, including myself. I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet and it blew my mind because it resonated with me so much.  You can see Susan Cain‘s Ted Talk here.  I also met her for a book signing at a behavioral health conference last year and she gave me some sound advice (that may be another post).

Growing up, I didn’t know what “introverted” meant, and apparently neither did my family or anybody else I knew, so I was labeled as “shy” or timid.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that being “shy” indicated that there was something wrong with me because I was different.  That was just one of my problems.  I really didn’t fit in anywhere, which gave me a huge complex.  I’ve never been a clique-type person either, but I did have friends (some may argue that my friends were my clique).  I see all of this now as a gift, even though it didn’t feel that way for years, especially considering that people like to point out how different you are.  In a lot of ways, I was defiant too and liked being different, but it took some time to develop the courage to own my uniqueness and to own it without guilt.  I often pretended like it didn’t bother me that I didn’t fit in, but I knew the truth.

I think that not fitting in put me on a path to be able to do the internal, self-examining, work to figure out who I was without relying on other people’s opinion. I read an article today of a lady writing in asking for advise on a topic and she indicated that she was concerned about what her mother, her sisters and friends would think. That’s an example of something that I would not have a problem with because I listen to my inner voice, pray, do what’s best for me, and if I so choose, may share my decision with others later (unless it involves or impacts my husband and our children, in which case I consult with my husband).

I have developed the courage over time to say “yes” to trying things that take me out of my comfort zone.  Earlier on, starting with my family, I said “yes” to standing up for my identity and setting my own path, which definitely did not feel comfortable, but I did it.  I later moved to a different state, completed my degrees, worked at different agencies, met new people, joined a different church, and tried new things. I also said “yes” to going after my dreams and testing my limits.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that the presentation was well received.  I was not overly concerned with how I would present because I knew that I would be professional and confident.  I was concerned about the content itself, how I would convey the work that was done over the years, and how I would manage the backlash, if any.  I had support in the room in case I needed backup and they chimed in minimally.  The beauty of the whole thing is that all of the “yeses” I made in the past for my own betterment led me to that experience.  And don’t get me wrong, that experience was not the pinnacle of all experiences.  I will be facilitating more stakeholder meetings very soon, and for all I know, people may run out of the room screaming “bloody murder”. I am simply acknowledging what it took me to get to this place and know that I have the tools to manage different situations.

It does not feel good to make mistakes, but that’s how you grow, especially if you take the time to learn from them.  Believe me, I’ve made many, but you really don’t know what you’re made of until you get out there.  You have to do different things, hang around different types of people, and go to different places to grow. You have to pursue your dreams and goals. I hate it when Jillian Michaels says, in one of my workout DVDs, something to the effect of “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”.  That is not my natural inclination.  I love being comfortable in my own bed. In fact, when I have the blankets just right, I tell my husband that the bed has been transformed into “the cocoon” because it’s so comfortable.  As much as I love the warm, gooey, feeling of comfort, I really love how much richer my life has become because I’ve grown so much as a result of putting myself in situations where I’m uncomfortable.

So you now see that this week’s “yes” is a different vein from last week’s “no”, but I hope you find something you can use from each. It’s a balancing act for sure.