If I could teach young girls anything, I would teach them to think for themselves and then act on those thoughts.
I am just now, at almost 30 years old, learning to think for myself. It’s not that thinking for myself wasn’t nurtured by the adults in my life; it’s that I always wanted to please others so much that I didn’t allow my thoughts to be heard with conviction. It probably stems from a lack of confidence or, in some cases, from feeling less intelligent than the other person with whom I was conversing. I know that there were times I wouldn’t express my true thoughts because I didn’t want to seem confrontational or cause problems. I wanted to be likeable.
If I had a nickel for every time I stated my opinion, listened to a rebuttal and then backed down saying, “Yes, I see what you mean, you’re probably right,” I would be rich! Rich in money, poor in spirit.
Due to my people-pleasing desires, I never allowed myself to develop my own firm thoughts and opinions. This enabled me to waiver so easily on my stances because I did not have a solid foundation.
The first thing I am trying to work on is really asking myself what I think on a daily basis. In an ideal situation I would have facts and examples ready to back up my every thought, but I do think that simply feeling in my gut where I stand on something is enough. I am supporting myself in my thinking. I am allowing for my mind to wander and explore all possibilities without worrying about how my thoughts will impact someone else’s opinion of me. What do I really feel and think?
That is the first step, and it is pretty difficult! That mind shift is tough because it is so deeply embedded into who I am. Sometimes I wonder if I should give up because I think that deep down I will always be a people pleaser. This leads me into the next step, which is figuring out how to be firm in expressing my thoughts and opinions without being abrasive toward others. This is a quality that I see and admire in successful leaders. I can be confident in myself and still be engaging and kind so that others want to converse with me.
I’m fairly confident that I know how to express myself and still maintain a calm conversational environment. The one element that I am not so sure of, is if people will still like me if they know that I might not agree with what they have to say. How others perceive me is out of my control and I keep reminding myself of that fact, but it is difficult to stop caring about it.
I am best at being firm in my thoughts and beliefs when it comes to protecting someone or something else. For example, if I have to have a difficult conversation with someone but I know that it is in their best interest in the end (I did a lot of this while in social work), I am able to get through the uncomfortable parts. If it involves the best interest of a child, I am able to have uncomfortable discussions with parents. If I can do this for others, why can’t I do it for myself?
There is another thing that goes along with the desire to confidently express myself, politely agree-to-disagree with someone else and to not worry what the other person will think of me after – the ability to stand up for myself when I am passive-agressively insulted. Have you ever had a moment where someone said something to you and you thought, “What the…” but because of they way they smiled and maybe gave a small laugh after you couldn’t decide if it was a joke or a jab? This type of thing drives me bananas! Usually I find the perfect response to their comment about 20 minutes later while driving in the car. I want to be able to call people out on passive-aggressive behaviour. I want to send a message that I am a kind person, but I will not be walked on. I think that’s fair.
There is one more scenario I am concerned about and this is the most important one: what happens when I the people I want to please are the people that mean the most to me? If I suddenly change from an agreeable person to a person with strong opinions, will they still like me and want to hang out with me? Maybe they like me so much because I am so agreeable.
I feel like this could be seen as a personality shift and I think lots of people like me because of my personality. I am going to have to find the right balance in the way I approach conversations, especially when I feel a strong conviction to express myself (whether it is the popular or unpopular opinion), because one thing I know for sure is that I must begin to be true to myself in the way I express my thoughts. I must be my authentic self, expressing my true thoughts and feelings, or my life with be riddled with hypocrisy and dishonesty. I feel like a baby learning to walk, stumbling along the way, but I have my whole life ahead of me, so I must press on because one day I hope to run.