We all want great lives, but most of us do not agree on what makes a life great. Some of us aspire to be CEOs of major corporations, and some of us want to be the scientists finding the next great cure. While we may want different things, as successful people, we share many qualities. There are countless books, articles, and online research qualities that garner success, but I believe that there is one quality that can make or break not only a career, but a life. This one quality can make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary, yet it can be incredibly difficult to master, especially for a woman. What is it that can make such an impact? Self- advocacy. Now, you might be thinking, “That’s it? Not being a self-starter? Not being able to focus? Not grit and hard work?” While these are all wonderful qualities, we need the ability to stand up for ourselves more than anything else.
I have found that many women are trained from youth not to advocate for themselves. We grew up watching our female mentors play supporting roles, and while some things have changed over the years, women are still not equal in the workforce. We still make less than men, and are more likely to be poor, assaulted, and harassed than our male counterparts. Standing up for yourself in an environment riddled with subtle sexism can be a minefield. Sometimes women find it easier to just lower their expectations because of difficult or unsuccessful experiences in standing up for themselves.
I have seen this lack of self-advocacy when I coach women in relationships as well. There are many reasons that we do not stand up for ourselves in relationships. We tiptoe around sensitive situations because we are afraid we might lose our partner or make them upset. We find it easier to push our own desires or dreams on the back burner to support our partner. We see standing up for ourselves as a “fight” for which we do not have the time, the inclination, or the energy.
So, how do we self-advocate in a world that has taught us that it is not what “good girls” do? Well, we need to change our perception of what makes us “good” in the first place. To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer, “We need to let go of the good opinion of others.” Self-advocacy always starts with self-love. Granted, in one article I am not going to be able to teach you how to love yourself, but a good start is deciding what you want and deserve, and setting boundaries regarding what is unacceptable to you. Letting go of the opinions of others means that we decide what is good for us and what we want. We live life from the inside out. We set our own personal standards and do not allow the world to decide what is right for us.
Once we decide what we want, we need to decide that we deserve what we want. We do this by coming up with a “good reason why.” We need to like our decisions. We need to feel confident about them. Finding a good reason why you deserve what you want cements your ability to let go of others’ opinions. I will often spend time with clients exploring why they deserve what they want. This may seem like a simple task but try it. Often, finding a good reason why not is much easier, but there are always many reasons why you deserve what you want, and finding them is an integral part of self-advocacy and self-love.
So, let’s say that you have decided on your boundaries and goals and feel good about why you deserve them. This is still not self-advocacy; this is simply the basis for it. Now, you must go out and live it. This requires a bit of faith. Things may not go the way you want them to go. Sometimes, standing up for yourself makes thing fall apart, but if they do fall apart the truth is that they were not working anyway. Think of Ellen Degeneres: when she came out, she lost her show, but that had to happen for her to rebuild, and in the end, she came out on top. We do not stand in our truth because we are afraid; being afraid is never going to give us what we want anyway. As David Ogilvy said, “Leaders grasp nettles.” This means that in order to be successful, you have to deal with the unpleasant fear of failure. Just do it. Knowing that self-advocacy is painful and might make things fall apart cannot stop you, especially if you have your “good reasons why” behind you.
So, how do we self-advocate? We do it in the energy of love, the most powerful force on the planet. Now, I am not talking about hearts and the sunshine. I am talking about the energy of truth, compassion, and authenticity. The energy of love does not need to force its way into a situation. Making a decision to speak your truth in love means that you show the world your authentic self, knowing that your voice needs to be heard. You state your truth, regardless of how the chips fall, because you know that you not only deserve what you want, but you are absolutely going to get what you want. If your current situation does not match your desire, then lose it and clear the space to allow the right situation, be it a job or a partner, to come. Self-advocacy is not about fighting to get what you want; it is about expecting nothing less than what you want.
When we self-advocate, we open the door to an extraordinary and successful life, no matter what our ideas for success may be.