I’m well aware of how ridiculous Pinterest quotes can be, but sometimes I can’t help saving one to my desktop for a quick, inspirational pick-me-up when the going gets rough. I scrolled across a gem recently that said, “Set your goals. Stay quiet about them. Smash the shit out of them. Clap for yourself. Repeat.” I’m all about smashing the shit out of your goals, but staying quiet about them? Hell no. This sentiment especially irritated me because it seems to imply the all too familiar expectation that as women, we should keep our heads down and work tirelessly until we reach our goals. Then once said goals are reached, we are to modestly pat ourselves on the back and then return to that heads down position and keep going.
Some of my greatest opportunities have come to me through sharing my ambitions with other people. And because of this, many things have happened for me that otherwise would not. In fact, I owe my current job, my roommate, and many of my friends to others and making connections after speaking up. As women, we need to advocate for ourselves and make what we want known. I’d be lying if I pretended that I’ve never shied away from these, sometimes difficult, self-focused conversations — I most definitely have. But, even though it may feel a little uncomfortable at times, deciding to take the leap, sharing my thoughts, and asking for help has never resulted in my world crashing and burning down. There have been times I’ve received a “no” or an apologetic “I can’t help you” in response, but mostly, I’ve received an emphatic “yes” or, “I’m so glad you asked!” A few years ago, I was vying for my dream internship at a literary center. After countless attempts to get ahold of the founder, I finally secured an interview and later, the position. A few weeks into it, my new boss joked that I got the job because I wouldn’t stop emailing her about it. I proudly laughed along with her.
According to Linda Babcock in Women Don’t Ask, “[a] study calculated that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t.” Imagine that: one million dollars more, just for navigating a few more conversations! The same can be said when it comes to your personal life. I consider myself to be easygoing and up for anything. While that mostly rings true, it often morphs into me saying “yes” instead of stating what I really want to avoid conflict. My friend is craving Chinese food again and I am sick of it. Is protesting for pizza being difficult or assertive? While it may be easier to nod and eat my way through another to-go container of soggy fried rice, I really want pizza. I suggest we order pizza since we ordered Chinese food last time. Guess what? We ate pizza. A date can’t stop talking about himself. Is changing the subject rude or reasonable? Definitely reasonable. I change the subject. Crisis averted.
The next time you hesitate before speaking up or asking for what you want, remember that if you don’t ask the answer will always be “no”. Here are three simple tips that have helped me out in various situations both professionally and personally:
Practice saying yes. Practice saying no. Practice asking for what you need and want. Talk it out, say it out loud — ramble if you need to. Write it down or even record a conversation with yourself and listen to it back if it’s helpful. The more you practice speaking your mind and asking for what you want, the less intimidating it becomes, plus it’ll help calm your nerves when you put your practice into action.
I can’t tell you how many concerts I’ve slid into by pretending I was a venue staff member or supposed to be there for some unknown reason— I’m serious. Unrelated tip I learned in a previous job: the loading dock is your key into any spot…as in, the last time I was in the Xcel Energy Center I glided down to the ice in my Prius. It was the morning of their big gala and not a game night, but still. I couldn’t help laugh as the sleepy guard buzzed me in through the player parking entrance. That confidence, even when fake, can get you further than you think. Harness that power and push forward fearlessly. As they say: fake it ’til you make it!
Especially if you’re afraid of conflict, taking small steps towards speaking your mind is key. Can you ask to lead the next big project at work in order to fuel conversation about a promotion? Can you address something in the moment with a family member or friend that you’d usually let roll off your shoulder? Sometimes the easiest way to ask the question is to dilute it down to what you really want, without all the fluff or long list of excuses why. Accept that you are worth what you are asking for. Ask for that interview. Say you want pizza! It’s really that simple.