Updated: May 29, 2019
"You're so quiet." I've heard these three words spoken so many times growing up. It was only after some deep reflection that I realized how much it has impacted me throughout my life. While I am at times I am a quiet and reflective person, this does not define who I am and mean that I don't have important things to say.
Becoming the quiet girl...
Silence to me is not uncomfortable, but to many it is. If you are quiet it must mean that something is wrong. So this brings up another question, "what's wrong?" If I am silent, it's often because I am thinking, observing or just living in the moment. As a young child I didn't have the capacity to understand this and began to think that maybe something WAS wrong with me.
Hearing over and over how quiet I was started to have an impact. I began to assume that role. It may have been true at times, but to a degree, I let it define me and silence my voice.
In many situations, I stayed quiet when I know I should have spoken up. I've walked by people who could have used a friend for fear of being intrusive. I've kept opinions to myself because "nobody cares what I think anyways."
Society favors the extroverts...
Society rewards those who are outspoken and outgoing. They are labeled as strong and charismatic. They are popular and successful. This made me feel as if something was wrong with me and that I should be more extroverted.
This created an inner conflict where I felt like I should socialize and talk to people, even of what I really wanted was some quiet time alone.
The feeling like I have to speak all the time and be more extroverted developed into a complex throughout my life. I would get anxious before social gatherings and worry that in one-on-one interactions, I would run out of things to say.
As I got moved throughout my life, new lunch tables were daunting, professional networking events were a slow form of torture and first dates would usually have to involve a cocktail. In fact, I began relying on alcohol to ease the pressure of social situations and to make myself feel less awkward. This wasn't how I wanted to live so I knew some changes needed to be made.
Doing the work....
During the last five years or so, I've begun to consciously work on finding my voice. It started in an unlikely place...the radio. Listening to new programs and podcasts helped me to expand my vocabulary and speak more eloquently. Having the words to say certainly helps in expressing your ideas.
My next challenge was to put myself in positions where I had to use my voice. I began to take jobs which required speaking to people and in front of large groups. I have spent the last few years teaching classes and leading workshops. I believe the fastest way to growth is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. I'd be lying if I said that my voice doesn't waver a bit during a big presentation, but I'm worlds more confident than I once was.
Finding my voice....
Finding my voice has worked in two ways. I'm learning to accept my quiet when it serves me. I no longer feel the need to say something just to make someone else feel comfortable. Sometimes non-verbal communication is just as effective. A smile can say a lot!
On the other hand, I've worked on speaking up more when I have something useful to contribute. I ask myself, "Is it kind, useful or necessary?" If the answer to any of these is yes, then I speak up.
Through my travels I've been provided with some perfect opportunities in which to use my voice. Out of these situations I've formed friendships, cheered people up and honored my truth.
I am no longer afraid of being the quiet girl because, to me, silence is strong!