From Fairy to Bad-Ass: Or, How I Found Empowerment with 5 Changes
There’s no mincing words. I look like a pixie, fairy-like creature straight out of a Disney film.
I’m described as delicate. Diminutive. Fragile.
What do those words have in common? They’re weak. And I’m not weak.
After an encounter this past New Year’s Day where I finally stood up for myself in a situation where I happily played the victim for far too long, I realized that not speaking my mind was just one of the many ways in which I actively disempowered myself.
On the spot, I made an internal promise that I wouldn’t let anyone walk all over me ever again. I soon realized it was much bigger than that, though. While the forcing function cropped up in my personal life, it had parallels to how I act professionally and all the “little” things myself and many other women do that give the message “I’m not important.” “My opinion doesn’t matter.” “You can take what’s mine.”
And that’s fucked up.
So, I identified the following habits, and set out to eradicate them. Do you catch yourself doing any of these?
Here are the fairy-like things I’ve since stopped doing:
1: Apologizing for no reason
I reckon I start about 30% of sentences with some variation of “I’m sorry.” I finally realized how absurd this was whilst getting coffee at cute coffee shop last month. In between half-and-half pours and stir straw decisions, the woman behind me snapped, “Excuse me, can you go any faster? I’m in a hurry.”
“I’m sorry — ” I started, then caught myself and turned to face her head on. “No, I’m not sorry,” I said. “This is a public coffee shop and I am preparing coffee at a perfectly normal pace. You can wait.”
Granted, this wasn’t well-received (she followed me out of the shop muttering, “stupid, stupid, stupid”), but I felt powerful for the rest of the day and kicked ass in my client meeting later that morning.
Lesson: It’s not my responsibility to apologize for every slight inconvenience any person might happen to experience in the course of being human.
2: Tilting my head to the side when people talk to me
When I was in college, the lead singer of my band came up to me one day and started blathering on about something I’m sure he thought was terribly important. I tilted my head to the side to listen attentively. He suddenly stopped his train of thought and said, “You look just like a puppy dog when you do that.”
Puppies sure are cute, but no one takes them seriously.
Apparently that interaction wasn’t enough to deter me, for the habit persisted. Then, in a recent 1:1, my boss looked at me and burst out, “I can’t take you seriously when you tilt your head like that!”
Lesson: Always meet them straight on.
3: Making myself smaller
This one is tough. I’m a fairly petite gal. If I don’t move out of people’s way, or take up even less space than I already do, people will resent me or step on me…right?
By holding my space — whether that’s physically in a room by standing with a wider stance, taking up more space in the conference room, refusing to move out of the way on busy sidewalks — I communicate that I’m powerful and have just as much right to that physical space as anyone else does.
This one has a lot of applications outside the office, and I faced my toughest one yet at Daybreaker, a morning dance party us San Franciscan’s love.
The dance floor is often a battlefield of feet, limbs, hair thrashers and god only knows what else. I’m always hyper-aware of where I am in relation to all other human beings, and adjust accordingly. But not this past party. I, too, danced with reckless abandon and let the chips fall where they may. Did I get stepped on more? Sure. But at least now those people are aware that they are sharing the space with other humans and it’s not a literal stomping ground.
Lesson: Use the space you need for the task at hand without apologies (see lesson one). Others will do the same, and lucky for us all that the planet is a fairly large place.
4. Not being direct about what I’m worth
At my recent two-year work anniversary, my boss asked if I wanted a performance review. I immediately thought back to the last one 6 months prior that ended up being focused not on my job and results, but rather my personality and physical appearance. I told her jokingly, “Yeah…I’m not emotionally ready for another review.”
That night, I kicked myself for not speaking up, because I immediately thought, “If not at a review, when can I talk money?” After all, I’d been killing it at work.
A week later, she scheduled an off-cycle 1:1, which lasted all of five minutes.
“When I asked you if you wanted a review, your answer should have been yes. Never let an opportunity pass you by to talk about money,” she said.
While the conversation about worth often centers around money and careers, it’s personal, too. My time is valuable. My friendship is valuable. My love is valuable.
Lesson: Ask for what you know you deserve and know you’re worth, and accept nothing less.
5. Holding back dissenting opinions
Someone recently told me I was boring, which is another story for another post. But part of his reasoning was that I didn’t express opinions. “Intellectual disagreement and digging deeper into arguments, challenging perspectives, and playing devil’s advocate can sometimes push a relationship forward,” he said.
Look. I am brimming with opinions. Opinions for DAYS over up in this here head of mine. But I often hold back. Why? It’s not a fear of arguing. It’s that sometimes I feel like my opinions won’t matter, or I’m not well-versed enough on a subject to contribute, or — in the case referenced above — I’d rather keep the waters smooth and egos stroked.
So, I’ve started speaking up more. And I’ve noticed it’s had a positive effect on many of my personal and professional relationships. So, while the feedback may have felt shitty, it actually ended up being pretty darn valuable.
Lesson: The world will belittle me enough. I don’t need to belittle myself by not speaking my mind.
Now, a couple notes on what being a bad-ass is not:
- Confrontational for confrontations’ sake
So, have I noticed any changes? A promotion and a raise in the past month, for starters. That swagger is definitely back in my step. Certain people are viewing me in a new light.
But the biggest change is that when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a fairy. I see a whirlwind of energy and power. The self-respect I didn’t know I was lacking is back.
And that’s what being a bad-ass is all about.