This month at UF Hillel we have been highlighting leadership development and what it means to find your voice. As someone who helps others develop these skills, here are some things I wish I had known or have learned along the way.
1. Finding Your Voice Requires Ongoing Hard Work.
I find reflecting on the times I felt uncomfortable or icky about a certain situation to be an essential step in the journey of finding and using my voice.
Thinking about how I could or should have done something different helps me fine tune my stance on certain issues and helps me realize and better articulate the values I am unwilling to compromise on.
I wish I had an easy antidote to help you do this work but you can’t go wrong with working to improve your self-awareness, having a strong support system, and always be willing to learn something new.
2. It’s Ok To Not Know
Owning up to the fact that you don’t know something is scary! That’s why I really respect folks who rather than pretend to have all the answers instead admit when they are not an expert about a topic and then take the time to ask questions and take the time to learn more.
Someone once said to me, “No one knows everything; together we know a lot” and I’ve taken this to heart. We all have a lot of knowledge both book smarts and lived experiences and we can always learn from one another. When I don’t know something I tend to ask a friend/mentor/colleague, read a book about the topic, or spend time with my best friend Google.
3. Challenge Yourself
Having the self-awareness to know when to stop talking, listen and learn from others is a skill I wish was taught and valued more. But also full disclosure, it’s something I'm still working on and will probably always be working on. When I’m in a group having a dialogue I challenge myself to be as present as possible, to not just sit there and only think about how I could respond in case someone calls on me. I try to ask myself before I speak up: is what I’m going to say going to add value to this conversation?
If that answer is no, I take that to mean that I need to challenge myself to actively listen and learn from those who are sharing. If the answer is yes, then I also need to challenge myself to use my voice and share. In some situations that comes easy but sometimes not so much, like when you’re in a lecture hall with 200 people or at a board meeting and so on.
For me, I get really nervous speaking in front of a group of people and my face turns BRIGHT red. It’s super embarrassing. But I’ve learned that if what I have to say speaks to my truth, people will listen and respect me --- even when I break out into hives (yea it’s a thing), oh, and also makeup helps!
4. Speak From Your Own Experiences:
You never go wrong when you speak from your personal experience (I statements). Sharing a personal anecdote/story I find can be the best way to help express an idea/concept/feeling etc. Sometimes I can get super textbook-y when discussing hard topics like racism, education inequality, anti-semitism, and my favorite - liberal snowflakes (insert eye roll). But I’ve found that I have more success with getting my point across if I tell a personal story. When I’m super passionate about something and/or get into a heated argument it sometimes comes out as tears. (YAY…. not). Like I said before, finding and using your voice is hard work and sometimes it’s emotionally draining. But there’s something powerful and indisputable when you speak from your truth. And it’s also ok to say I’m not comfortable sharing my story but I have a very personal reason as to why I care about x, y, or z. That’s perfectly valid and you will see that people will understand and respect you for that.
5. It’s Ok To Agree To Disagree
This is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with, especially in the current political climate we live in. There’s also a lot of privilege with saying this statement and I acknowledge that. My goal when I use my voice, especially when standing up for justice, isn’t necessarily to change someone’s mind right then and there. I consider it a win when the other person stops and says “ok I hear you” or “I’ll think about that.” It plants a seed in their mind that says their way of understanding something might not be the only way or that maybe somewhere in the middle is the truth.
However, if I am disagreeing with someone over a value I will not compromise with, I stop engaging in the conversation and excuse myself. That is not me agreeing to disagree, that is me seeing my way out for my own self-care and preservation.
6. Surround Yourself With Reminders Of What Sparks Joy
Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Tidying Up but this is something I’ve been practicing for years. It is hard and draining to go against the grain, to always be the critical thinker. I find surrounding myself with inspiring quotes, encouraging messages, pictures of my loved ones and happy times, books, and things from my travels help reenergize me. They are sources of strength and inspiration and help dig me out when that deep dark circle of despair happens (Sunken place vibes).
7. Self Care And Be Kind To Yourself
Standing up for your beliefs, doing the work of self-reflection/analysis is draining. Sometimes I think that it would be easier to just not care but that’s not my reality, especially when my values are being compromised.
Self-care is essential to make sure you are recharged and your needs (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.) are being met. For me, I know I need to do a better job at taking care of my physical body. I’m low-key terrified of the doctor but I know it is essential to do a better job of going and listening and adjusting when it starts to tell me that I’m doing too much.
8. I’m Still Learning Too!
This list is by no means exhaustive. I pride myself on being a lifelong learner and know I’ll be adding more to this list over time.
What are some of your lessons? Please feel free to share yours and add a comment. It might be something for me to add it to my list!