In her 2018 memoir, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama shares that she was far from the strong, independent, and confident woman we see her as today.
She says that for many years she struggled and succeeded at finding her voice.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life,” she writes in the book, “it’s the power of using your voice.”
The First Lady’s memoir delves into her journey from a hesitant, self-conscious girl from a working class neighborhood in Chicago to one of the most respected and admired women in the world.
In the book, Obama talks a lot about her desire to speak powerfully and express herself honestly in public.
She worked at this constantly. She says that she made herself adhere to a strict code. “[I was determined] to say what I absolutely believed and what I absolutely felt.”
Indeed, her speeches have resonated with people—particularly women.
No doubt the one that stands out to most people is the speech she gave at the 2016 National Democratic Convention where she famously said: “When they go low, we go high.”
Have you been working on finding your voice and standing up for yourself in your own life?
If you recognize the following five signs, you’re definitely on that path.
1) You’re stepping up your self-concept
In an interview with CNBC last month, Jada Pinkett Smith said that when she first came up on the Hollywood scene, that she lacked self-love.
“I did not have a level of self love about me, so that needed to be healed. And being young, I didn’t really understand the difference between the two,” she said.
Over time, Pinkett Smith has found her voice and opened up about the mental health challenges she went through over the course of her career.
She said that it was important to her to develop a sense of self love that went beyond her talents. She wanted a self love “status” that was more valuable to her than celebrity status.
You need an improved self-concept to be able to use your voice, but using your voice can, in turn, build confidence and self-esteem, says Lucy Edwards from Mindful Remedies.
“When we advocate for ourselves, we are taking charge of our lives and making our needs a priority. This can help us feel more empowered and in control, which can boost our confidence and self-worth.”
2) Conflict doesn’t make you cower anymore
Years ago I used to subscribe to O Magazine. This was before the days when the internet took over our lives, so I used to love diving into my monthly issue when it arrived in my mailbox.
I remember reading an article by actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry. I may not remember all of the details accurately but he was a struggling playwright at the time I believe. He was in the middle of putting on a local play but was finding it very difficult to attract people to come see it.
Meanwhile, Perry was also having a hard time with his relationship with his father who would often put him down about his life and his choices. Perry had never stood up to his father before, I think partly because he grew up in a culture where you don’t disrespect your elders—particularly your parents.
I think the other reason was that his father was an overbearing man so he was also very intimidating, and it was easier to just let his contentious behavior blow over rather than engage with it.
One routine Sunday, Perry was on the phone with his father having a decent conversation when the belittling began all over again.
Perry says he doesn’t know what took over him that day but he just snapped. He told his father in no uncertain terms that he was never to speak to him again that way. Perry put a boundary in place for the first time in his life: the next time his father disrespected him would be the last time they would ever speak.
Surprisingly, Perry’s father broke down and sobbed. He apologized and told his son that he was right. The conflict turned out to be a turning point in the father-son relationship.
But that’s not all. Soon after, Perry’s play suddenly began to sell out consistently. He had to put on more shows. His career began to soar when Oprah Winfrey noticed his work.
Perry knows that the fact that his life leveled up after that talk with his father wasn’t a coincidence.
Standing up for ourselves and boldly stepping into our authenticity can have a domino effect in our lives.
“We all encounter situations in life where we feel we are being treated unfairly or disrespected, whether it’s in our personal relationships, workplace, or even in public spaces,” says Edwards.
Standing up for yourself is an essential life skill that is often overlooked.
Edwards says it’s crucial to stand up for ourselves in these situations, as it can help us maintain our self-respect and self-esteem, and also prevent us from being taken advantage of.
No doubt standing up for ourselves helps us to establish boundaries.
“When we assert our boundaries, we communicate our expectations, needs, and limits to others, which can help prevent us from being exploited or mistreated.”
“If someone constantly makes fun of us or belittles us, we can let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it. By doing so we are setting clear boundaries and sending a message that we expect to be treated with respect.”
3) Any guilt you have about speaking your truth is going out the window
Many of us don’t stand up for ourselves— particularly when it comes to our loved ones—because we don’t want to hurt them. We also want to “keep the peace.”
We can also do without the guilt of seeming “selfish.”
Women in particular, feel guilty for asserting their needs.
Find a way to push through the guilt, says the team at Select Psychology.
“When you’re not accustomed to standing up for yourself, you’ll likely feel guilty for stating your needs when you do start to be more assertive.”
That’s actually not a bad thing, they say.
“But do not let the guilt take over. Simply acknowledge the feeling, put it aside and push through.”
4) You’re also not sorry for saying no when you need to
Hollywood actor Ryan O’Neal (Love Story; Paper Moon) died last month at the age of 82. In arguably his most famous film, Love Story (the musical score is stellar), the famous catchphrase is “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
With his signature dry humor, O’Neal has said many times in interviews over the years that he has no clue what that line even means.
I would tweak this phrase and say: Loving yourself means never having to say you’re sorry.
Or: Standing up for yourself means never having to say you’re sorry.
This applies to when you’re standing up for yourself like we talked about above, or when you’re using your voice to say no to something.
If someone is trying to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do, you do not have to say yes and you don’t even have to apologize for saying no.
It is your prerogative to decline doing something you have no desire to do.
Granted the first time you start putting this into practice, it will feel awkward and you’ll have that guilt we talked about it.
But in time it will become easier. And easier.
Soon enough, it will become the norm to rattle off a “no” anytime you don’t want to do something.
5) Your body language is beginning to look different
Using your voice for your own greatest good can transform your body language big time.
How you present yourself to others as you speak can also impact your assertiveness, says Elizabeth Perry from BetterUp.
“Slouching or mumbling don’t help you get your point across.”
Perry recommends showing confidence with your body language: stand up straight, speak firmly and calmly, and maintain eye contact while you’re speaking.
Don’t worry so much about your voice faltering in the beginning. The point is you’re doing it—you’re using your voice and you’re standing up for yourself. And for that you should be proud of yourself.
Your voice is your most powerful tool
Our voice can be used to create change not just for us personally, but also for the collective world.
Voices are meant to encourage other voices as well, to unite and support each other, says Voices of Youth.
“People can take anything material from you, but your voice is one of the things that cannot be taken away.”
Don’t waste it.
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