Thursday, 7 February 2019

Overcoming A Fear of Keeping Silent

Last weekend, ORWA hosted Heather Elliott, who talked to us about impostor syndrome and author burnout.  She was incredibly frank and open about her own personal journey and many of her comments gave me a lot of insight.

I think most women have experienced the little voice in their head that says: no one is interested in your opinion, or if you speak up, you'll only invite attack/look foolish/cause problems.  Most of us discount our own hard work and experiences.  We hesitate to take center stage because experience has taught us that center stage is an unpleasant place to be (it's not ladylike, it's not safe, it's too arrogant, it's too demanding... there are a ton of reasons which all boil down to the same truth: it's just not for me.)

The sign is a trick.  Doubt and Fear are behind you, too.
One of the points which resonated most with me seems incredibly obvious in retrospect.  Mockery has always been a useful tool to prevent groups from effectively lobbying for change.  It doesn't take more than a passing glance through social media to see the sneers, the unkind memes, and the personal attacks which dog the steps of the outspoken.  It's depressingly predictable, but still effective, even when the target knows the attacks have nothing to do with them personally.  The burden of such ongoing negativity and derogatory comments erodes the self-confidence.  And it's even more effective when one considers the effect on the audience, on every person who hesitates to speak up against something they know is untrue or wrong.  They keep silent because they don't want to be attacked.

Keeping silent is the equivalent of "I won't go to this party" or "I won't take a walk after dark."  It's a self-imposed restriction made because of the implied risk of action.  It really boils down to I won't do this because it's too dangerous.  

One of the challenges that comes up is that promoting oneself is a necessary part of life.  The obvious example is in careers.  Quiet good work can be overlooked in favour of the loud and flashy (leaving aside the absolute horrors that happen when credit is stolen).  My chosen job as a writer literally depends on me promoting myself to strangers and so far, I've found it's the most challenging part of the whole process.

But it's not just about work.  We need to advocate for ourselves at the doctor's office, with service providers and sometimes with the public in general.  We do, in fact, deserve to be treated with respect and without dismissal of our concerns.  We shouldn't have to justify our needs by citing outside authorities and third parties, just to be taken seriously.  

Heather Elliott had a lot of good advice but there's one bit I'm taking to heart for 2019.  I'm going to take a deep breath and start being more active in promoting myself.

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