by Amal Matovu
Everyone who knows me describes me as “the nice girl”. I’m sweet and it probably goes too far sometimes, because I never say how I really feel and my friends decided they’ll never ask me the dreaded question, “Do I look fat in these jeans?,” I will tell a white lie to them anyway, so what does it matter. It’s been my personal mission ever since to speak out and I took the first steps this holiday when I visited my family in Texas. I’d never met them before and my shy side raced to the finish line demanding to take over. I embraced it and quickly shut myself off from them, too scared to talk to my Uncle and Aunt or even to get to know my cousins. A few days after my arrival we went to a diner, Uno’s, for a family meal.
I love sea food so I was enthused to order fish and chips. However, when my fish came in it was a disaster! I didn’t know how to tell my Aunt I didn’t like it because I wasn’t comfortable around her yet. And I wasn’t sure how to tell the waitress without sounding offensive. The waitress, Hannah, came to check on us a few minutes later.
“Are you enjoying your meal?” Hannah asked smiling brightly.
Everyone nodded in response with a few grunted yeses. My heart drummed thinking of how I’d starve if I didn’t speak out. Then, I remembered my mission and after a few seconds passed I mustered up the courage to speak.
“I’m not really sure about the fish,” I squeaked.
“Do you not like it? What’s wrong with it?” she asked concerned.
“I can’t really say. I just feel like it’s different. Like I was expecting a different taste but it wasn’t exactly that,” I said with a clear voice this time.
“We’ll have you ever had fried fish? “
“Yes, I have. And the taste is just a little different. I can’t actually place my finger on it.”
“Is it greasy or like…”
“No, it’s not greasy.”
“So, is it not tender or over fried.”
“Honestly, I can’t put my finger on it. I was just kind of wondering if maybe I could look over the menu again and order something different.”
The waitress probably thought I was crazy but complied and I was so happy that I’d spoken up and said exactly how I felt. For me, it was a small victory. Another step towards saying how I actually felt.
And at the table, when the topic came up of my shyness I was honest with my family too.
“I really just want to give you family time. And I’m just kind of shy because I don’t know you all yet so much.”
My aunt turned to me with a smile and said, “But you are part of the family so you must be part of the family time. And there’s no need to be shy because we want to get to know you.”
Yep! Another leap to the world of expression! I felt so relieved afterward because now they understood my behavior. My reasons for banishing myself to the room to watch Netflix for hours. And I’d spoken up to the waitress. I was so high on that energy of speaking up that I actually emailed my advisor and asked if I could switch to another class that I thought I’d enjoy better. You can probably guess that I was able to get into the class. I even called up my friends and had a brutally honest conversation about a fight we’d had during finals weeks. Finally, I approached my cousins and spoke to them; figuring out how their lives were and what made them tick.
It may seem minor but for me that was a huge step. It made me realize that expressing myself was not so hard at all. It comes in the smallest form by saying, “Sorry, the fish isn’t so good” or even saying this is how I feel about this, and better yet,” I think you’d look better in these black jeans. They would match more of your clothes anyway! ” But I think the biggest part about that, is expressing what you want. Letting the world understand you so that you can reach your goals – to get good fish. Fish, in this case need not be just food, it could be an internship opportunity, speaking out about a controversial topic, speaking out to your boss about the hours you might need to reduce. It could even be speaking up and speaking out – in your class, or in that large conference. I’ve been taking more baby steps now, saying what I want and even saying no when I should without hurting people’s feelings.
As leaders, we have to be comfortable with who we are, and voicing what we want. Being comfortable with sharing our brains to the World no matter how impossible it seems. If we don’t, who will?