What is “too independent?”

On learning how to self-advocate.

Lisa Martens
Nov 17, 2020 · 4 min read
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Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

I remember receiving a work review. It was my first job out of college, and I felt lucky to have a cool job at a tech company.

My review went well…with one caveat.

My boss said I was too independent…that I was independent to a fault.

I was praised for being independent as a child. I was flying by myself by the time I was 6 (with the flight attendant chaperone, of course). I liked the shock when I told people.

I had grown up fast. I was independent. That was good. Right?

At my first job, I had software issues with my computer. Instead of asking for help, I learned how to work around the issues. When my boss found out, he was confused. There was a whole team of tech support that would have been able to help me.

Why hadn’t I told anyone I needed help?

My cousin is doing remote learning…all of my cousins are, for obvious reasons. He’s in fifth grade.

Part of his homework was self-advocacy: Stating his needs, explaining what he needs to learn, asking questions, and being confident in who he is enough to speak up.

The concept seemed new and strange to me. Wasn’t that being needy? Why were they teaching this? Wasn’t the point to get children not to do this?

I had always thought that asking for help meant you were a squeaky wheel, a nuisance, too annoying, too “sensitive.”

I didn’t realize this was a part of healthy self-esteem. For me, needing help was a sign of weakness.

Like many people, especially in the United States, I grew up thinking that asking for accommodations or assistance was “bad.” If you had some kind of disability, your job would can you (and this has happened to people in my family), and so you had to keep anything like that a secret.

And keeping your needs a secret meant working around them — doing without, to preserve the facade of independence.

But this takes a lot of work. Over the years, I have had issues that would have qualified to put me on disability temporarily. I have relatives who have had similar issues, and they simply refused to ask for help or to apply.

It’s fear disguised as pride. Fear of being labeled, of being fired, of being cut out of the workforce.

All of those are valid fears — discrimination does exist. But because I learned not to ask for help, I also learned that any self-advocacy was bad.

I learned to always force myself through instead of stating what I wanted and then working toward what I wanted.

What if I were to do my cousin’s homework? What do I want, and how do I advocate for it?

It was shocking to realize I hadn’t asked myself that question in an honest way. When I was asked as a child, I always felt fear. I felt pressure. What was the right answer? I was looking for a right answer to give…I didn’t feel like I was genuinely being asked.

At the end of the day, I want a simple life. I want to be able to write every day, exercise every day, and I never want to stop learning. I like being nomadic, even if I’m staying in one place for a while…I like the option to move.

I don’t want to climb any corporate ladder. I’m not interested in being a part of a large organization. I want to volunteer for causes I believe in. I want to go back to school. I’m indifferent to the idea of getting married and having kids.

How do I advocate for it? I suppose I just have to let go of anything that isn’t that. For a long time I had this idea that I could work a corporate job until I was writing enough to quit, but the job drained me too much to do much writing and self-promotion. I advocate by guarding my energy and my time. I have to find creative ways to generate revenue.

Owning that feels uncomfortable and strange. I feel judged…like people will tell me writing is not a real job. And I have to be able to stick up for myself and say — Yes it is.

my books ❤

“You seem fine.”

Articles on my mental health journey.

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