1. “She might belong in Special Ed. She is sooo quiet in class.”
They said this to me until one day when the Special Ed teacher pulled me out of class in 5th grade. She administered some simple tests that I promptly passed and then silently walked me back into the classroom.
2. “She is not athletic at all. She runs from the ball. ”
Yes I did run. I ran from Dodge ball. Because Dodge ball sucks and everyone knows that the boys go out of their way to whip the ball as hard as they can at people. This did not mean I was bad at sports.
I joined soccer instead. Playing soccer was much more fun and with that sport? I happily ran towards the ball every chance I could. Wearing the uniform was such an honor for me. I think I even slept in it a few times…
If I had listened to the negative comments, I would have never experienced the joy of playing a sport I loved and being part of a team.
3. “She doesn’t have any friends.”
A teacher called my concerned mother who came to visit me at school one day during recess. During her visit, I was happily playing by myself doing who knows what- probably trying to get those fuzzy caterpillars to climb onto my finger with their sticky legs.
I did have friends but I didn’t need to be with them all the time. This was second grade and for the first time, I learned that being alone was not good and the perception of not having friends disappointed adults. Despite this, I continued to do things by myself, out of eyesight and had wonderful adventures in my back yard climbing trees and building forts.
Being a alone and lonely are not the same thing.
4. “She’s so shy.”
Not to my close friends. I would draw funny comics and made my friends laugh with my impressions and silly stories. Feeling comfortable was all I needed to entertain them on a daily basis. These friends were able to see the real me. Not the quiet ( and not shy!) person I was in large groups.
I learned to be very discerning with whom I share things with. As a result, I still have many of the same friends today that I had as a child.
Being quiet is NOT the same thing as being shy.
5. “That’s not her “skill set”.”
The term “skill set” reminds me of a garage wall with a menagerie of tools hanging from metal hooks. I first heard this term when I was an administrative assistant. My supervisor at the time had a several of us seated around a table as she described what each of our limited strengths were. In other words, she felt that I could only go “so far” in my career as an admin because I had a limited skill set…. and she was right. I would go on to do so much more both with my career and in life.
I was a terrible typist. The worst. To this day, I have no idea why they hired me for that job but the hiring manager must have seen something in me. That something that at the time I could not name but now know it was this: courage and belief in myself.
6. “I’m telling you this for your own good.”
Advice. People love to give it don’t they? Even when you don’t require it.
When I first brought home my oldest daughter from the hospital, my ex-mother-in-law tried to convince me that one of her sweet chubby cheeks was bigger than the other and told me that I had to keep her propped up at all times to remedy this. I was a new mom, open for advice but after looking at my daughter’s beautiful face, I knew this was crazy talk!
Always follow what you know to be true, even if you feel under pressure to comply with unwanted advice.
7. “You’re weak. I can see it in your face.”
My ex-brother in law said this to me once, during a rare time when we were alone. While it was true I was afraid of him it was because he was known for having a violent temper and not because I was some weak push over. Fear and weakness are not the same thing.
Some people will pray on quiet people and try and use it as an opportunity to intimidate or shame them. Don’t fall for it.
Years later, I learned that he often used this tactic on other young women. There was a specific intention with his choice of words. Fortunately, I was never alone with him again.
Never be afraid to question someone’s motive, even your own. Check in with yourself and always ask if what is being said to you feels true.
8. “You need to be more confident.”
This phrasing actually showed up in some of my past performance reviews. “Be more confident”. Still makes me cringe. Years ago, I received this commentary as part of a group peer review, namely I was compared to other HR managers. Despite my glowing feedback from all of the people I worked with, which detailed in fact – how confident I was (?!), the “group” decided that when I was in group settings, I didn’t speak up much.
Their perception of confidence centered on the idea that I had to be very vocal in group meetings in order be viewed as confident. And they were right. As much as I endured the torture of listening to the same loud mouths dominate the meetings, I knew that at some point, I would have to speak up. It had nothing to with confidence.
It had to do with vulnerability and courage. I had to be willing to expose some of who I really was in order to be noticed.
And I did. But in my own way. I prepared in advance and then forced myself to be the one to volunteer to speak up first. This increased my courage with groups and then: I dominated the room with my opinions. The loud mouths sat back with surprise. People finally took notice. That’s right. My turn.
9. “You’re anti-social!”
As much as I love my husband, this used to be his standard response to me when I expressed my displeasure at having to attend one of his work parties or interact with people I did not want to spend time with. I really wish people would stop using this term. Say “unfriendly” if you must but the other term suggests some kind of psychosis.
It takes time for me to warm up to someone. I consider this an act of wanting to be genuine with someone and not superficial. I truly believe that we both get more out of the relationship this way. This is why I like working with people one-on-one. I love getting to know people on a deeper level.
Also? I have very strong intuition and can usually figure out the intentions of people without them even having to speak. I know this can make me appear cold at times but I defied my husband to name one time when I was wrong. He couldn’t.
People will use terms they hear usually out of ignorance, and not malice. It’s ok to correct them.
10. “You’re too quiet today! Why don’t you speak up??”
This was more of an admonishment than question. There I was, minding my own business during a meeting when my boss, who was speaking at the time, ran out of ideas and things to say in front of her boss, so she immediately passed this discomfort onto me by calling me out.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot. And you know what? No one is going to help you out of this little jam. You have to do it yourself. I had to learn to do it. Flushed red with embarrassment, I explained that I was merely putting my ideas together and shared the notes that I had been taking during the meeting. It’s important to explain why you are doing something so people don’t make incorrect assumptions.
With patience and time, I learned to educate others about my thought process.
11. “You’re weird.”
Yes. Yes, I am weird. If being weird means not parroting what other people say or brown-nosing the current “it” people at work or in business, then yes, I am a total weirdo and proud of it. At times, I will randomly sing Patsy Cline songs by myself, in my home office until I hear: “Mom! Please stop singing now…” from one of my children.
I often have so many thoughts running through my mind at any given time, that sometimes my mouth will silently say words or I’ll gesticulate with my hands. I was relieved to hear that I’m not the only one that does this. Brene Brown writes about how she’s been known to do this as well. I realize how strange this can look.
Having quirks makes us unique and undeniably original. You can still be different but totally own what you do, whether that’s as an artist, a writer, a school teacher, a doctor, wellness coach, a lawyer, whatever. Fitting into the norm is not required and frankly is not what gets you noticed.
If you are reading this, you probably have experienced some of the things I listed. It’s not always easy to quiet the naysayers long after they’ve poured their words into your mind. A lot of it is old stuff, swirling around like leaves in the wind. But you can and you must. This way you can make room for the real you to keep shining.
What have you decided to stop listening to?
All my best,