- The Life of JLOWE
- How to advocate for yourself
How to advocate for yourself
Learn to speak up for yourself, because nobody else will
Happy Sunday and thanks for being here.
Have you ever felt stuck? Have you ever showed up to an event on your own, hated it, but felt like you couldn’t leave? Or have you ever stayed late at work because you weren’t sure when you were allowed to leave? Or have you ever had an issue with a roommate but just lived with it because you didn’t want to “disturb the peace”?
All of these situations stand out as moments where I’ve begun to learn what it means to advocate for yourself.
Self-advocacy as something learnt, not taught
As a kid growing up, when we went to family gatherings, when my parents were ready to go, that was when we’d leave. So of course, as we all have experienced at some point, sometimes I’d end up staying longer than I would want. Going through school, I’d been lucky to have teachers who recognized my academic potential and would recommend new things for me to try and challenge me to be better. I was lucky to have people around me that would want better for me, push me forward and act as a conduit and accelerator for me to get there.
Throughout college, and especially after graduating, I quickly began to realize that the world won’t spoon-feed you. You know that age-old saying “Ask and you shall receive”? Well, the truth really is that nobody knows what you want unless you tell them.
Ask & You Shall Receive
Self-advocacy means learning how to tell people what you want - learning how to ask so that you can receive.
For me, learning how to advocate for myself has meant learning how to raise my hand and say what I want, leave situations where I feel uncomfortable, or disagree with people and not be a passive entity in conflicts. Most recently, it’s meant beginning to figure out what I want for my life on a whole and finding ways to be vocal about that not only with myself but with other people as well.
It’s a really rewarding thing to be vocal about what you want, because you find most times that once you say what you want, the people around you who truly care about you are better able to support you. (On the more cynical side, it’s also a great way to discern who really cares about you and will and won’t support you doing what you want to do).
Taking a risk on yourself
For me, however, self-advocacy doesn’t just mean learning how to ask others for what you want, but it also means having the courage to go out and get it for yourself too. In a very big way, it means having the confidence to disrupt inertias in your life that you may have become comfortable with so that you can pursue the things that are important to you. It means being able to take a risk on yourself and being willing to change your life - oftentimes in a dramatic way - in order to create the life that you want for yourself.
What you’ll quickly realize in the process of learning how to advocate for yourself, is that in order to do so, you have to have clarity on what you want. You definitely don’t want to be raising your hand to volunteer for something you’re unsure that you want. Figuring out what you want is a juicy topic for a future blog post, so we’ll talk more about that in another newsletter.
Funnelling through a system
The reason that self-advocacy has been on my mind is because I’m at a point in my life where I’m just beginning my career, and more so beginning to imagine what my career will look like down the line. I’m realizing that in America, especially corporate America, the system is programmed to funnel you through, and before you know it, your life has gotten away from you.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the vast majority of people who work corporate jobs - your typical office desk 9 to 5 - will go through life chasing the next promotion, the next pay raise, the next step in their corporate journey and get caught up in what’s been famously dubbed “the rat race”.
The whole system is programmed to trap you
If you don’t advocate for yourself - in fact, if you don't sit down with yourself and first figure out what you want - it’s so easy to get trapped in the system. Before you know it, your expenses are linked to your income and you can’t quit. Your lifestyle is linked to your 9-5, and you have to work to live.
For me, that first step - figuring out what I want - is a non-negotiable. Nowadays, I’m using my days to think deeply about what life looks like for me down the line, and re-evaluating whether my actions today will benefit the me of tomorrow. A saying that I always dwell on is to ensure that “I’m always looking out for future me”.
If you don’t know what you want, someone will tell you what they want for you
A harrowing realization is that if you don’t gain clarity on what you want for yourself and take steps to achieve it, you’ll look back at your life and realize that you’ve been doing what other people want for you rather than what you want for yourself. That doesn’t necessarily just refer to a typical corporate job, but if you zoom out, it could also mean living out your parents’ dreams, your mentor’s ideas, or even just caving to the pressures of societal expectations.
And I don’t say all this to say that I’ve figure this out.
Rather I say this to say that we have to be conscientious. We have to be more intentional about what we want for ourselves. We have to be more willing to advocate for what we want, and recognize when we’re not advocating for ourselves.
At the end of the day, and as cynical as today’s whole message may have sounded, the only person you can really rely on in this world is yourself. The family and friends that you love and trust can’t tell you what you want for yourself. The people you hold nearest to you can’t discern what your next step in life should be.
I have no doubt that the people closest to you will support you in what you choose, but in order for that to happen, you first have to make the decision to choose you.
Self-advocacy doesn’t mean not trusting the people around you, but rather it means choosing you, putting yourself first, putting your wants and needs first, and then asking those around you for support. It means gaining clarity on who you are, and beginning to take steps to realize the person you want to be.
Until next Sunday,