I’ve talked about Women Among Women in previous posts, and here I am at it again.
This group. Ugh.
This group is A-mazing.
Our March meeting was on the topic of Woman’s Voice. It may have been my favorite discussion to date, and our conversations continued past the night of the event and into the group’s Facebook page. There were various subtopics we discussed under “Voice” that had me pondering for days following. Specifically, the fact that finding your voice does not always involve a transformation or life-altering experience. (So unlike books such as Eat, Play, Love want us to believe.) Instead, some of the epiphanies my peers experienced came over a coffee break with a friend or on a random Thursday afternoon surrounded by their male coworkers or while listening to music while on their daily run. You can’t predict when you’ll have that A-HA! moment, but you can embrace it when it happens.
In the hope of not losing these thoughts moving forward, I would like to share some of the broader topics I gleamed from the discussion about how a woman can find her voice and how she can use it. The following are pieces of that dialogue, in no particular order, as well as some of my own opinions on the topics. I would love to hear from you also — once you consider the journey to discovering your voice and/or the difficulties you’ve faced when using your voice, please leave a comment to further this discussion.
Sometimes, not saying anything is the best answer. You see, silence can never be misquoted.
The power in silence.
When it comes to your voice, sometimes there is power in silence. Voicing your opinion or replying to another person’s opinion may not be necessary, and the stronger response may very well simply be saying nothing at all.
If someone doesn’t like your presentation at work or your review on Facebook or your suggestion at the recent PTA meeting, think before responding. Will rising to battle better the outcome or further the greater good? Will a response cause a heated debate and ill-will between the parties involved? Does the opposing opinion affect your work, your reputation, or your life in long-term negativity? The best response from you may be nothing at all.
Instead of being the change needed for every situation, your actual purpose may be as a wheel in the clock — pushing an agenda a bit further ahead but not causing a kink. Sometimes your role is to focus on doing your job and doing it well. It is human nature to not please every other person in the world; we all have different personalities, beliefs, ideals, etc. after all. You could complete a project to perfection and someone can still find something they dislike. As one of my coworkers says, “You could be the juiciest strawberry in Michigan, and find someone who doesn’t like strawberries.” That’s life.
I try to give everyone I interact with the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he/she is having a bad day and is responding out of exhaustion or frustration. Or perhaps he/she has a strong rooted emotion against something you do and you simply do not know his/her background to understand the reaction. I prefer to think the best in others. Instead of focusing on why someone reacted in a certain way, I attempt to focus on myself and my reactions. I’m human so I sometimes fail, but the majority of the time I am able to take a step back, assess the situation, and find some insight into the other party’s response. You can only control yourself and how you react, so why put too much effort into worrying about someone else’s agenda?
To really get to know yourself, try doing a mental review of the situation in question, especially if you have been challenged or felt uncomfortable. Ask yourself, “Am I responding in accordance with my personal values? Will responding bring a better result, and ultimately happiness into my life?” Spend some time with the answer and see how it makes you feel. You might find that silence is your best friend in more circumstances than you thought before.
People have a sixth sense, and they can sniff it out if you aren’t being true to who you are. – Christa Quarles
Avoidance gets you nowhere.
I think a big culprit of a woman finding her voice is when she discovers a passion. It is much easier to speak out or up about subjects that you have investment in and knowledge about.
I like to call myself an “extroverted introvert” because I find a lot of enjoyment in being surrounded by people while remaining in my own corner of comfort to observe. Having that space also allows me to meditate with my thoughts during discussions and learn more about how I tick. Over the years of self-discovery, I have realized that my voice is stronger where my passions flourish. It was a slow epiphany that grew as I gained experience, power, and became a leader in my specific areas of expertise. It was not until a stepped into a place of leadership that I felt forced to step forward and say, “This matters, and I’m going to do something about it.”
If you experience something that goes against your beliefs or personal values, then you have to be bold enough to recognize that avoidance of the subject gets you no where. And in turn gets the world no where also. Consider moments in history where women went against the norm of society and dove head-first into uncomfortable conversations: Queen Elizabeth I and her “video et taceo” governing approach, Lucy Stone’s influential Woman’s Journal, the USA Gymnastics national team coming together against Larry Nassar. The world has not been changed by closed mouths.
One of my peers at Women Among Women shared my thoughts on why passions push you forward to finding and using your voice:
Peer L: I think a great starting point for those looking to find their voice or to gain confidence is to get involved with something you’re passionate about, like a volunteer organization. It allows you to connect with others with similar interests and who inspire you to be an advocate for yourself and/or something that you believe in. It’s easy to have a voice about something you’re passionate about and you’ll gain the confidence to let your voice be heard in other areas of life, including the times where it may be more difficult or come with greater risks.
In the same respect, another peer commented on how using your voice may seem like a hindrance to finding success. Especially for those who own a business and are expected to practice perfect customer service. Avoidance and remaining silent may seem like a better route in such circumstances. Unfortunately, the cliche that the customer is always right is actually wrong. The customer always should be heard and understood, but it is okay to walk away from his/her business if their opinion directly collides with your beliefs and values. There will always be different and better business opportunities, and exercising your voice will make for good practice in growing yourself into a more poised and respected leader.
This thought also encompasses the idea of speaking up in difficult situations, like when a coworker takes credit for your work. This example was discussed heavily by my female peers who have experienced working in male-dominated environments. Women tend to sit silently as credit for projects is taken by their more out-spoken male counterparts. Why is this still happening, ladies? As Christa Quarles, the CEO of OpenTable, said, “There have been stories for centuries of the self-made man, but today the self-made person is not a truth. Nobody succeeds alone. We are all part of a much greater fabric. So it is okay to look to others for help, but by the same token, don’t let anyone steal your power and make your story theirs.” Finding our voices where women have been quiet for so long seemed to be a sore spot in our discussion and a topic that needed more consideration.
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. – Maya Angelou
Stereotypes add up.
Speaking of more consideration on male-dominated work environments, is this not a large area of discomfort women face when it comes to our voices? The attendees of Women Among Women shared numerous stories from their own lives where it seemed “feminine stereotypes” were thrown in their faces when they attempted to make their voices heard in the work place. It seems as if stereotypes add up when it comes to speaking up.
One of the most common stereotypes women face professionally is being labeled “bossy” when in roles of leadership. Or, depending on your leadership approach, you could be described as nosy, uncaring, strict, over-enthusiastic, etc. Why are women given negative labels as leaders while their male counterparts are given respect? Though this question was asked multiple times throughout the night, no definitive answer was discovered.
I don’t have a good answer either, as I’ve never dealt with this situation. Personally, I have never been given a negative label as a leader, nor have heard coworkers speak of other females in management in such terms. I have been blessed to work under numerous women who I viewed as mentors in my industries and who I greatly respected.
The experience I do have is in using my voice in my careers. I am not comfortable publicly speaking, but I have learned to raise my opinion during professional meetings. One day I realized that being shy and retreating was the easy thing to do — and I never wanted to be the person who took the easy way out. I quickly found that I didn’t have to be the loudest or deepest voice at the table to share my opinion and have it taken seriously. And so my voice grew over the course of my managerial roles.
Perhaps it is the shifting of our culture (the time of #MeToo and other women empowering movements), but it seems as if the tides are beginning to change in the professional world. Women are taking roles in leadership more often and respect is on the rise. We are forcing ourselves to speak up, despite our nerves, and contribute to the conversation in what once was an intimidating environment. Our voices are ready and we need to continue to let them be heard. Let’s keep on pushing forward, ladies — the world is changing at our sound.
Move in silence. Only speak when it’s time to say, “Checkmate.”
Finding your voice in conflict.
I wrestled with one concept in particular following the WAW meeting: how to find your voice within a conflicting situation when there is a real and imminent danger. Another of my peers struggled with the same thought, and she reached out to the group via Facebook to continue the discussion the day after the event:
Peer A: For many, finding our voice feels natural. We grab the bull by the horns and make ourselves be heard – professionally, personally, in crowds. But there are those who it doesn’t come natural to. And some have very real consequences/backlash that can come with speaking up. Not everyone has a support system or backup plan that would allow them to leave a job, or a relationship, etc. How do we still make those women feel empowered? I don’t ever want anyone to think that just because they haven’t found a way to “find their voice” in a situation means they’re not strong.
I am one of those people who does not have a naturally loud voice. I am a strong INFJ meaning I will do everything in my power to keep the peace. Yet I am also a very passionate person who holds her values and morals to a high esteem. Sometimes I find it difficult to balance these two characteristics because I might need to ruffle a feather or two in order for my opinion to be known.
I have a personal experience where I kept my voice quiet for a long time. Very similar to what Peer A says above, I walked out of a career with no backup plan and a lot of student debt/living costs/bills. After staying silent for two long years, I finally had had enough though. I placed my keys on my former employer’s desk and walked out without looking back. As someone who rarely raises her voice, that move in itself spoke legions.
Unfortunately, I think many times finding your voice can result in sinking a ship. When you embrace your values and identify your passions, you become a force with which to be reckoned. Remaining silent does have its values in some situations, but when it comes to a situation where you NEED to use your voice, silence is a form of validation. Validation for mistreatment, poor morals, or improper behavior. It is when you begin to feel nervous about speaking up that things are starting to shift — you’re feeling nervous because you know what you have to say needs to be heard. And if you don’t choose to say the words, they will fester inside of you like a poison.
Finding your voice can be healing.
Yes, you may sink a ship — you may lose your job, you may lose a friend or a romantic partner. You could even lose a family member. However, how good of a situation are you in if you’re feeling those nerves already? You’re going against your innate core in order to appease someone else. My two-year long silence resulted in black outs while driving, visits to a neurologist, and taking a prescription to battle the inflammation in my brain causing immobilizing migraines. The stress of my silence caused me physical pain and placed me in very real and imminent danger.
But then, in my own way, I found my voice and got out of the situation. No back up. Loads of debt. There were quite a few tears… but I picked myself up and moved forward. My reputation and character carried me into a healthier and better fitting job position — acting as the wine club manager and event planner of a local winery. If you can find your voice, then you’re already strong. You have a passionate spirit that will carry you into the next adventure. Yeah, maybe you get knocked down for a second, but that just means you will bounce back with more force. Roll with the punches and be true to yourself.
Peer A: Yes, to all of these things. There’s not a word in here that doesn’t resonate or that I don’t fully support! But I still think that there are grey areas. Leaving a job with no savings if you have a family to support isn’t an option. Leaving a job if you have rent to make and have no other means of financial support isn’t an option.
As far as why those women feel like they have no support, there’s probably a myriad of reasons. From a personal standpoint, I know that there are a lot of women whose support I know has been offered to me in the past, but honestly their lives are busy, and it’s easy to feel like an inconvenience. I know that I’ve been judged by women who say they’ll offer support no matter what. And I know that saying that you’ll offer support and actually doing it are two very different things. There’s a plethora of explanations, I’m sure.
So, I guess what I’m referring to are the in-between hours/days/months/years. What other ways can you find your voice beyond quitting your job, leaving your relationship, cutting ties with family etc. Within extremes is always a middle – being the loudest doesn’t mean you’re being heard. Although, I suppose finding your voice and being heard are also two very different things as well.
I couldn’t agree more with Peer A that every area of life has grey areas. When you’re on the outside, it is so easy to say to someone struggling, “Just do something and make a change.” There are situations — especially when you have dependents — where speaking up is not an option, especially when the result may be termination and/or abandonment.
Though I’m no expert, if I were in a situation like Peer A mentioned (a “middle extreme” if you will) I would make my voice known to an intimate group of peers and/or friends. Simply speaking about things can cause peace — I am all for a good rant with my closest girlfriends over wine. It does the heart good. Perhaps this is not what society views as strength but “sucking it up” and continuing forward with your work/relationship might be the only option. You may not be speaking to your assaulter, but you are being heard by people who care. I have found relief in that knowledge.
Also, speaking with friends or a special network might be worthwhile, and not only for your mental health’s sake. You might make a connection with someone who understands what you’re going through and who can help you find a better solution than just “sticking it out.” I think that goes back to what was said above: silence can be a value. You have to choose your fights — not every battle is worth it.
I am not a difficult woman at all. I am simply a strong woman and know my worth. -Angelina Jolie
Remember your worth.
Angelina Jolie is my favorite actress. She’s beautiful and poised and a fantastic artist. But why I adore her has more to do with her attitude than her art; she holds herself with an enviable confidence and strength. Plus she uses her high-profile status to promote her passions and she holds true to her personal values. That is the mark of a worthy celebrity in my book.
Many voices are left unheard due to the low self-esteems of their owners. Women who have experienced loss or guilt or failure throughout their lives and who have not yet learned that those past or present lows can result in future highs. I have been there as well. I wish I had known sooner how valuable I am and respected my worth. If I had, I may not have gone through some of my rougher patches where I allowed others to use and abuse me. Remember, ladies, that you are valuable.
If it were not for my past failings, I would not have learned my value though. Nowadays, when I fail, I look that failure squarely in the eye and ask, “What did I just learn from you?” In some circumstances I learn that the failure is a closed door to which I do not own the key. Thus I move on. Other situations need more investment and work. Putting more time into something causes maturity and grows you into a better version of yourself. I’ve learned to not let any rejection ruffle my feathers. One “no” here may simply mean taking a detour and finding another path. Persistence is the key to those doors.
I have always been fascinated with stories of famous women who initially failed. Women like J. K. Rowling — my go-to answer when someone asks me to name one person, living or deceased, I’d want to have a coffee date. Rowling’s mailbox was filled with rejection letters when she sent her original Harry Potter manuscript to publishers. It took rejection from twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury Publishing sat down to read her manuscript. Yet she persisted in sending the manuscript after each rejection letter. If she had given up, my childhood would have been very lonely.
Another woman who failed in her past was the founder and CEO of Lippe Taylor, Maureen Lippe. Lippe couldn’t pass a typing test and failed her interview of working her dream job at Vogue. She went home from the failed test and signed up for classes at a secretarial school. Six months later, she returned to Vogue able to type and take dictation, and she landed the job. After learning the art of marketing she went on to found Lippe Taylor, who has worked with well-known brands like Nestle, Gerber, and Ikea. One of my favorite quotes from Lippe is, “Failure should teach you survival skills, not resignation.” The worst thing you can do when you face failure or rejection is internalize and let your feelings impact your self-worth. Live and learn — and quit taking things personal.
A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult. – Melinda Gates
The difficulty in being heard.
Why do we go through the difficult journey of searching for our voices? What is their importance? Using your voice is the surest way to build connections, find solutions, and live your truth. Your voice helps the world understand what you believe, hear what you think, and appreciate who you are in the deepest and rawest form. Thus it is important to use your sincere voice and not a pseudo rendition.
Women, like men, were not created to be quiet and sit in the background. We were designed with thoughts, values, and feelings that contribute to the greater good. Ignoring your voice leads to frustration and a fear of expression. Those who keep silent miss their goals and live in regret.
As we’ve discussed in various ways above, sometimes having a voice can cause momentary pain and hardship. The beauty in finding your voice is not in the easy moments of life though, it is in the difficult. Hard and happy are not exclusive — Life can be both.
At our WAW meeting and on the Facebook group, conversation on the difficulty of having your voice heard was discussed. Especially in those moments of conflict when voicing your opinion may have negative fallback. Peer A had a great suggestion as to how to be heard within difficult situations:
Peer A: I started thinking of ways that could still provide [those in conflicting situations] a voice: volunteering with young girls and showing them how to have a voice. One way is by walking away from conversations that make you uncomfortable – it’s not always necessary to put someone in their place. Sometimes it’s enough to just remove yourself from the situation.
This reminded me of a concept I was taught in college: “No.” is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation. Saying “No” is a difficult thing to do, but necessary in a number of situations. I have been actively practicing saying “No” more in my life, and though it is only one word, I can see the difference in my voice when I firmly state it. My voice assists me in achieving my ever-changing goals and finding perspectives that belong to me and me alone. Challenges are instrumental to growth, so relish in the difficulty of discovering your voice and using it in your every day life.
Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.
Pass your voice on to the woman behind you.
In the end, the importance of finding your voice is to pave the road for other women. There is a greater promise for the next generation when we find and share our voice in order to be heard. With all that has been said in this discussion, being true to yourself is Obstacle #1. The next obstacle is being a source of support for others who are going through similar experiences. Why do some women feel like they have no back up or support? Reach out and help one another! We have all been through hardships — we all have baggage — and we can help one another in some form. You never know the difference a kind word or a gentle nudge of encouragement may help someone lacking confidence in her own voice.
Peer L: As mentioned, knowing how and when to let our voices be heard and knowing when to stay silent are both equally important and powerful. For me, observing other women who seem to have mastered the staying silent vs. speaking up thing is inspiring and empowering in itself. Maybe it is simply being a role model for other women around us. While we must individually decide what is important to us and what we stand for, we need to help others find this out too. We need to be there for one another and sometimes that also means being the voice for one another.
I think having a voice is such a great gift to give to someone else. So once you discover yours, share it with the next lady in line. We’re all in this together, right?
With all these thoughts and opinions, I continue striving to find my individual voice. I am thankful for my little piece of the blogosphere where I can practice using my voice more readily than I do speaking — written word is more my cup’o’tea. My passions and beliefs push me into characteristically uncomfortable positions daily, but I have found success in many facets of my life by remembering my value. Sometimes I tread water during my journey, but other times the water stills and I can find refreshment in my personal experiences. There’s rejuvenation in expressing myself and using my voice when the time calls for it. I know the worth of my voice and I will grow and strengthen it until I die.
I’ll leave the discussion with this thought: seeing a woman being able to own what she’s been through, stand up, be honest, put her heart out there and be connected to people — that is amazing and empowering.
Please feel free to continue this discussion in the comment area below. I would love to hear your input and learn from your own experiences.