It’s all too easy to feel that you are losing your voice. And not just at the time of year when we’re handing out Strepsils like they’re Polos. As a woman in particular, your voice is something that can be really hard to find.
I have always been outspoken. Ever since I was little I’ve been confident, I’ve been brave and I’ve never been one to take things lying down. I was proud of my ability to argue, to fight for what I wanted, to get my point across.
It was never something to be ashamed of. It was never anything short of great. It was something that I loved about myself.
I’d heard rumours that children should be seen and not heard, I’d chosen, ironically, not to hear them. I’d be aware of the snot-nosed little boys in my class telling me that I was just a stupid girl and that, as a result, I didn’t know what I was talking about… this usually made me speak a little louder. I became aware, as I grew up, of the eye-rolls, of the interruptions, the corrections, almost always made by men who knew so much more than me, and still I wasn’t deterred.
I started this blog, I wrote my book, I continued to fan the fire of passion inside me. I kept talking, I kept speaking, I used my voice. I was strong and I was proud of it.
I have just as much right to be heard as anyone else.
I had a voice. And then, somehow, I lost it.
It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t even notice it right away. I still don’t know how it happened. But one day I looked up and realised that there was a constant buzz of conversation happening around me that I simply wasn’t a part of. Someone had put the fire out.
The spark was gone.
The confidence that I had previously had an abundance of was dwindling.
Christmas afternoon is spent doing quizzes in my household; an activity I’m usually front and centre for – what I lack in knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm. My dad has always called me Drive-By, an affectionate term for my ability to fire off information at a rate of notts before disappearing again. In front of my family at least, I’ve always had a voice. It wasn’t until the last of the wine had gone this Christmas just gone that I realised that not only had I not offered up a single answer, I hadn’t been asked for one.
I’d been allowed to sit in silence for the duration. Nothing, not my mind, not my family, even thought to question it. It’s a funny thing, how easily you can fade into the background when you allow yourself to. To assume that the world will wait for you to speak is ignorant, lazy and the easiest thing you can do.
In the same way that when I tell you a story about how I saw some Iced Gem Biscuits yesterday, you all of a sudden realise that you hadn’t thought about Iced Gem Biscuits in FOREVER, by removing yourself from the situation, from the conversation, albeit only for a moment, it’s all too easy for you to be forgotten about.
I have no doubt that my family’s exclusion was far from intentional; ‘if she know’s the answer, she’ll tell us’ they must have thought.
I thought that too. I’ll chirp up in a sec. I just want to be sure I’ve got this one right. I waited to be sure, for the right time, for my default setting to kick in. But it didn’t. Before I knew it, my team were four rounds in, doing fine without me and I no longer had the confidence in my own brain to be sure that London was, in fact, the capital of England.
Years of my ‘speak now, think later’ way of thinking, and all of a sudden I found myself thinking for so long that I’d forgotten how to speak.
Christmas Day was the first day I noticed it and since then I can’t escape the realisation. I feel myself shrinking away from confrontation, I feel ashamed when my family tell tales of my outlandish confidence as a youngster, I sit and let people spout ignorance in my general direction, deeming a reply to be something that they don’t really need to hear.
I realised I was totally off balance. I doubted everything, I was totally out of my stride.
And once you’ve fallen out of your stride, it’s really fucking hard to get back into it again.
Silence is alright, you reason.
They’re not missing me, you tell yourself.
What if I sound like a twat? you ask yourself.
I’ll feel better tomorrow, you reassure your wobbly mind.
I can’t be bothered, you admit.
The moment you notice your voice, it becomes the worst thing in the world. Like hearing yourself on a tape recording (showing my age a bit there with that comparison eh?!), you find yourself feeling disconnected from yourself and overwhelmingly self-conscious.
It doesn’t feel right, sit right. It isn’t right.
After the fighting is finished you begin wondering if what you were fighting for was even worth the fight in the first place. When you doubt even the most basic of your own skills, you question whether you ever knew anything at all. When you find yourself worrying that you have nothing of value to offer, you’ll very quickly start believing that you do, in fact, have absolutely nothing of value to offer.
What I am of course describing here, is anxiety. A condition I suffer with. The condition, I suspect, that caused my voice to disappear in the first place. (read my blog post on ‘accepting anxiety’ here).
And I realise that what I lost wasn’t my voice, but my confidence. The means by which I portray that confidence was just unfortunate collateral damage.
(Buy the backpack HERE)
But then last Monday my worst nightmare came true. Something I have worried about, obsessively and ridiculously, for the last year and a half a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y happened, and although the outcome is as bright as it possibly could have been and everything is going to be okay, I was shaken to my very core and have had my eyes opened to the world in front of me.
What I got last Monday was a reality check. Everything was put into perspective. Everything that had mattered, really really mattered, didn’t matter any more. It was all small, insubstantial, insignificant. Everything that wasn’t really, really, important, wasn’t important at all.
And trust me, I hate bloggers who are as elusive about elements of their personal lives as this as well, I hate the shrouded mystery and the confusing ‘sort of secret’ epiphanies that people half talk about, but I can’t get into the ins and outs of this one, because it’s not my story to tell. So I’ll stick to talking about me. A blogger’s greatest skill.
Me and my epiphany and how I got my voice back.
A few weeks ago, before this crushing realisation, the realisation that nothing mattered and that nothing was important apart from the fact I had air in my lungs and a life to get living, I had a long chat with a friend of mine who has recently been promoted at work into a position that is absolutely killing her. She’s working her arse off, doing as much as anyone could have asked for, going above and beyond.
In her three month review though she was told that, although she was doing well, she needed to speak up, be more assertive and put herself out there in meetings – once she got the hang of that, she’d be fine.
She was stressed because she didn’t know how to do it.
Despite the fact she is just as qualified as anyone else in that department, knowledgable, hard working, confident in every other area of her life, when it came to putting herself out there in a professional capacity, she couldn’t do it.
This doesn’t have anything to do with anxiety, at least not in my sense of the word. This has a lot to do with being in unchartered territories and, *queue the eye rolls*, it has a lot to do with being a woman.
One of four females in the office, her being there isn’t just something that is new to her, it is something that is new to everyone. A lot of men, particularly in this field, are not used to women in the boardrooms that aren’t there to get the coffees. This is perhaps why she is being required to speak that much louder. To fight that much harder.
What her boss was telling her to do, was to demand that she would be heard by people that didn’t really want to hear her.
We’re similar like that. She has to work out a way to speak to people who don’t want to hear her, I have to work out a way to speak to people that I think don’t want to hear me. On the surface she’s got the easier task, but my mind really can be a fucker so I’m not sure…
I know that she’ll do it, she’s a smart and brilliant and the confidence will come. I also know that there are a lot of us who could learn a lot from what her boss told her to do.
Demand to be heard.
There are people out there who want to silence you, there are people out there who will to do their upmost to do it.
I noticed it as a child, I let if affect me as an adult.
I let them silence me. For those that tried it was all too easy. I let my anxiety win the internal battle and in doing so I allowed the interruptions, I accepted the corrections, I enabled my own silencing. I was too tired to fight, I let people with confidence talk over my expertise, I didn’t really care anymore. And that was a shitty thing to do.
Because I have a voice, and I deserve to have it heard.
We all do.
And not everyone wants to hear my voice, not everyone will agree with my opinion, not everyone will like to hear what I have to say. But that’s okay. I’m not speaking for them. I never was. I was speaking for me, I always was, and if they don’t like that they can move away.
You can’t let them quieten your voice. Whether ‘them’ is the loud and condescending voice in your head, or the ones you hear in your office, you must never give anything the power to do that.
Shake off the inhibitions that prevent you from telling people what you want, for demanding what you deserve, for sharing an opinion that you are proud of having formed.
Speak. Share. Know your worth. Believe you are important. Use your voice, even when it’s shaking.
“The only way to find your voice is to use it.”
– Austin Kleon
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