My mother has always said that when I was a little girl, I wasn’t afraid of anything. I’d be happily making friends with anything that moved, throwing my thoughts into the ring and saying my piece (even if that piece was more ‘who is going to play with what toy next’ rather than ‘life changing epiphanies/hard pills to swallow on the state of the climate’). I remember vaguely leading games at playgroup and fulfilling the ‘assertive’ Leo trope to a T… until I stepped foot into a school where everything I innately knew about taking up space was systematically broken down.
Self-confidence? I barely knew her.
I’ll spare you the details, ’cause if you’ve been in the British State School system you’re fully aware that they’re wonderful at churning out young women with a predisposition to people pleasing. Reaching for your dreams, sure, but somewhat cautiously so that you don’t rock the boat. We’re practically bludgeoned into accepting a deference to authority in whatever form, which I guess comes in handy for The System when we’re all clamouring for the same 5 unpaid/barely compensated internship positions that also happen to require you living inner-city because nowhere will hire you unless you have at least 45 years experience fresh out of university. Ok that may be a slight exaggeration, but in reality, the skill of asking for more is squeezed out to the point where if someone does ask for more, the whole generation gets branded as entitled demanding brats, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a full length rendition of that song from Oliver Twist.
And hey, gentle reminder: it’s not entitled, demanding, or bratish, to be fairly compensated for your work. Exposure does not count as fair compensation.
So how am I learning to rewire this school-installed mental hardware? Well, the first stage for me came with age and the realisation that I do not have the energy anymore to people please all the time in all aspects of my life. No thank you. If trying to keep everyone happy is destroying your health, it’s time to stop doing that.
The second step for learning to take up space for me was thinking about what I wanted out of the ‘situation’ and then thinking about what the worst case scenario was, then assessing if I was OK with both eventualities. Most of the time, the worst case scenario was ‘they say no.’, and while ‘no’ is definitely frustrating, it isn’t the end of the world. There are very few occasions where the worst case scenario is ‘they say no, blacklist me, and I never work again/everyone hates me’. Very very few.
Step three was working out how to verbalise this space. People aren’t mind readers, and since I’ve always preferred people being very frank with me when I’ve been problematic, it’s a thing that goes both ways. It’s hard to not use minimising language, but it’s best to be direct when addressing feelings and capabilities. Nunchi (a Korean word that basically refers to emotional intelligence) does not always transcend cultures. Oh, and although it seems obvious, manners! It isn’t people pleasing to remember that the person (or people) on the other side of the conversation have emotions. There’s a difference between being assertive and being abrasive.
So let me give you some concrete examples of me ‘taking up more space’, ’cause it’s all very well and good to spew a bunch of words. Before that though, let me tell you that the feeling of even doing the bare minimum to increase your ‘space’ is great.
If you couldn’t tell already I’ve been on a bit of a kick to adjust some of my more negative thought patterns so that I can start believing in myself and my abilities more. 🙂 Law of attraction, getting back what you put out and all that. And, of course, taking up space that I am due.
Are you good at taking up the space you need? Let me know in the comments down below. You can also check out my recent videos as well as take a gander at the ‘gram.