When I was very young, I talked. I talked ALL the time. My mom tells stories about how she needed to ask me to be quiet for a second so she could think of what to do next, or how she would have to pull me away from strangers I’d roped into conversation. I had so many questions, opinions, and facts to share with anyone I met.
Sometime around 4th or 5th grade, I clammed up and stopped talking. As I got older, I had a hard time gathering the courage to speak up in a group. My anxiety whispered that no one wanted to hear my idea; that it wasn’t important. Starting my career, I was passed over for opportunities early on because I didn’t ‘seem assertive enough’. When I did speak, it was overpowered by other (usually male) voices in the room talking over mine.
A few years ago, I saw an interview with Beyoncé promoting a new album. She talked about creating the stage persona ‘Sasha Fierce’, an alter-ego who takes over when she performs. In her words, “Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different.”
The concept of finding that inner ‘fierce-ness’ struck me. I knew a more powerful voice lived inside me; that it lives inside lots of women. We’ve just been taught not to use it. Beyoncé is a hero to so many women of my generation, and I think it has something to do with her concept of performing your most fearless and most bad ass self in the face of fear or opposition.
When I need a boost of power, I listen to Beyoncé’s ‘Flawless‘ on repeat like an athlete listening to their pre-game pump up jam. I’m sure I look insane as I whip my hair around in the the car and sing the words to myself. When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s monologue on feminism breaks into the middle of the song, tears sting my eyes.
“We teach girls to shrink themselves. To make themselves smaller. We say to girls: you can have ambition, but not too much.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
With that being said, here are four ways I’ve learned to channel my inner Queen Bey, or:
Stop saying you’re sorry. (And don’t BE sorry.)
When you have something to say, or if you need to break in with information at a meeting, PLEASE don’t say sorry. It’s been said before (ahem, this excellent piece by Lena Dunham), but I’m saying it again. “Sorry” is just a preamble that translates to “don’t actually regard what I’m about to say.”
You’re being paid for your opinion, and you are an expert in what you do, so give them what their paying for.
I would go a step further to insist that you shouldn’t feel sorry either. You have NOTHING to apologize for. You’re being paid for your opinion, and you are an expert in what you do, so give them what their paying for. If they aren’t paying you for it, show them why they should.
This isn’t to encourage rudeness, which gets you nowhere. I don’t condone shouting over someone or breaking them off mid-sentence for no reason. I only recommend that when you have something to say, say it like
Sasha Fierce [insert your inner diva name here]. ‘Cause you ain’t sorry ’bout it.
Don’t give in to the haters.
Chances are there will be someone at work, or a friend, or a family member who constantly invalidates what you say or do. For whatever reason, they don’t believe you are capable and want to make sure you believe that too.
Make sure you learn from mistakes, so you aren’t wrong very often. Back up your decisions with research and data whenever possible.
Sasha Fierce doesn’t have time for that, and neither do you. Be honest about the things you don’t know, but be confident in what you do know. Make sure you learn from mistakes, so you aren’t wrong very often. Back up your decisions with research and data whenever possible.
Even after all that, some people still won’t respect your opinions or see you the value in your work, but that’s ok. Haters gonna hate. Keep rocking what you do and soak in the glory when you succeed.
Don’t forget the ‘why’.
You do the work you do for a reason. You care about it for a reason. It’s easy to forget that when the struggle gets too real. Some days, I fantasize about leaving the office and never coming back. I picture myself getting out of the tech world and doing something simpler with my life. I start googling subsistence farming and how to collect rainwater.
I’m economically independent. Most women before me couldn’t say that! Many still can’t.
Before you decide to go off the grid, remind yourself why you started in the first place. As an experience designer, I tell myself that what I do makes tech accessible and enjoyable to use. That my job combines visual art and science, which is pretty exciting (to me at least). I’m economically independent. Most women before me couldn’t say that! Many still can’t.
When you look at it that way, the setbacks shrink down to size. Brush them off and keep slaying.
Pick yourself back up.
Sometimes things go wrong. It might be a mistake you’ve made that leads to a setback. Or someone around you is so discouraging that you can’t find your fierce anymore. I’ve had moments that made me wonder if I’m cut out be in my career; when it doesn’t seem like I’m good enough.
That’s where your alter-ego comes in handy. She’s a winner, and she isn’t going to quit.
It’s hard to get over insecurity when it comes creeping up, poisoning your work and blocking your creativity. That’s where your alter-ego comes in handy. She’s a winner, and she isn’t going to quit. Let her take over for a while. Soon, you’ll stand back up to meet her.
What started for me as a performance, an alter ego that I channel to make myself heard, has over time transformed how I interact with the world naturally. I’m not pretending to be fierce anymore.
I just am.