It still surprises me that I said yes to speaking at Sisterhood Social in July, but there was no doubt in my mind in taking up the opportunity. Rather than overcoming a fear of public speaking, I saw it as a curious opening into the unknown. Like stepping into cold wild water, I trusted that I would find my way by connecting with my breath and my body. I felt nervous, my hands were shaking, my mouth dry and lips trembling. But I connected my feet with the ground beneath me, through eye contact with my beautiful audience, and I found my way through 15 minutes of speaking about something I believe in. Here is a summary of what I shared that night.
I believe in speaking up. This is new for me. In my early life I learnt to be good by keeping quiet. I didn’t want to be a nuisance or cause any trouble. I became a listener and an observer, gauging my decisions carefully.
At school I remember wanting to be invisible, praying not to be chosen for anything. I was tall so it was difficult to hide from the teachers’ eyes but I did my best.
When you learn not to speak up in childhood, it’s really hard to find the courage and the words later in life. There’s an underlying fear about the outcomes which seem easier to avoid rather than risk. What if I cause trouble/disappointment/upset?
This carried on during University and in my work life. I just wanted to do a good job and scurry off back to safety from the outside world. When people said or did things that hurt me or that I disagreed with, I would dwell in silence, eventually maybe saying something but met with resistance, empty promises or belittling remarks.
I remember I used to think that no one took me seriously, that I didn’t matter. That others mattered more and I shouldn't spoil the peace by speaking up. It happened in my relationships too. I feared the consequences of speaking up - what if it causes an argument, what if they say it’s not important, what if they leave me?
I had never considered the flip side of what not speaking up was doing to me. What was the impact of that?
Feeling frozen by fear
Not being seen, not being heard
General passiveness on the surface
Deep anger, frustration and anxiety inside
Feeling alone, powerless, suffocated, like I couldn’t breathe
Pain coiled up in my body
How can we begin learning to speak up when we don’t know how?
Firstly, I think it's important to create space to get to know yourself. How? Walking in nature, writing down thoughts and feelings, stretching your body, perhaps talking to a therapist. Begin to find your voice through connecting and expressing yourself in environments that feel safe and nurtured.
Sometimes people don’t want to listen to what you have to say, but that doesn’t mean it should be unsaid and unheard. It’s about choosing the environment to express it in.
I’ve been learning to speak up in the spaces where I’m heard and seen, where others relate to me, who say yes I feel that too! That brings about meaningful change and community.
Like here, right now in this room.
How am I speaking up today?
Asking for space while working on creative projects
Asking for help from friends and colleagues
Writing and sharing my experiences
Asking for help from experts to help me with physical pain
Putting up my freelance rates after 4 years of being too afraid to do so
Sharing my dreams and ideas with friends
Standing in front of this audience
What’s the impact of speaking up?
A feeling of connection with other people
Giving and receiving kindness and compassion
Releasing pain in my body
New opportunities like public speaking
Feeling heard and seen
A sense of community through sharing lived experiences
In speaking up for ourselves we give permission to others who relate to have a voice too.
In speaking up - what do I have to say?
I believe in myself, that I matter.
I'm learning that I don’t have to rely on the approval, response or permission of others to have a voice. I just need to find the spaces to express myself in. Schools and offices don’t do it for me. There are too many rules. So I turn to informal spaces where there is freedom, creativity and openness.
And I believe in you, that you matter.
There are too many people who are unheard and unseen in early life which is carried into later life. If you can’t find a space to speak up, perhaps you can create one.
I’m curious to know, if you were to speak up today what would you say?
If you would like to contact me about this blog post or about anything else, my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Julie Mitchell who provided this opportunity and a beautiful safe space to speak at SisterHood Social on 20th July 2023. Please visit the website and Eventbrite page to find out information about future events.
Thank you to Jen Scotney and Suzanne Hill for supporting me at this event, and for the photos and videos.