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Finding Your Voice: By Knowing Your Limits

Growing up, I never knew that you could say no to something or someone in order to protect yourself. I never knew that no could be a positive instead of a negative.

But then I got a job at the University of Irvine, California. I worked for Team UP! where I worked on a ropes course built for team building, referred to as an Odyssey Course.

Odyssey Course, team building at the University of Irvine, California

UCI Odyssey Course with team building

The course is built to teach communication, trust, team building, and fun! As an employee (facilitator), my job was not just to help lead a small group through the different elements. I was also there to help the group achieve their goals by encouraging them and asking open-ended questions (a question that needs more than yes or no as an answer).

Being a facilitator, I learned that you can't force a group (or person) to the correct answer to the questions they are asking.

One of the hardest things to teach and help others understand is the differences between "zones". The zones are comfort, challenge, and fear (or danger).

Most people live in their comfort zone in life. There isn't a balance between the three or they go from zero to 100 instantly forgetting about the middle.

personal boundaries, challenge zones, comfort zone, fear zone

I didn't learn about these three zones until I was in college. However, once I knew the differences, I started seeing how they were affecting my life and choices. For example: the fear (or danger zone) became a game-changer in my decision making. A friend of mine fell into peer pressure and decided that in order for us to remain friends, I needed to change my entire personality. Well if the person isn't encouraging you to be the best version of yourself, then they could be a toxic person in your life. My answer to her was simple, "I guess we're no longer friends." We didn't speak for almost 10 years when she sent me an apology but that doesn't mean I let her back into my life.

So I have given descriptions and a personal example of the zones, but you might be wondering still how this applies to finding my own voice.

If you are not being challenged, how often do you voice an opinion? Do you just accept what your friends, family, and/or society tells you is the correct answer or do you offer an alternative? Are you trying to better yourself in some way: classes, projects, friendships, volunteering, etc.? You could be comfortable talking about controversial topics but find it challenging to talk about emotions (that was me for most of my life).

These zones help you also learn when you're not being heard. For example: In 9th grade, we had to read The Giver (a great book if you haven't read it, the movie doesn't do it justice). Our teacher was going around asking what lessons could be learned from this book. ***WARNING - SPOIL ALERT*** I raised my hand and said something like, "It tells us that if we don't honor and remember the past, we will never grow as a society." (I didn't say it that refined, but it was something with the same point.) My teacher looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, "No, it teaches us that our past is important." If you're confused, so was I. I thought I had just said the same thing, just differently.

The teacher continued to act this way towards me the entire year. If switching teachers had been an option, I would have. Instead of the teacher causing me to become fearful of ever speaking out again in class, her response could have been a lot different. It could have been encouraging or even challenging. She could have asked me to dig deeper into what I said or asked a classmate their opinion. But because she belittled me in front of 30 classmates, I never volunteered an answer again.

Then during my senior year, I chose my English elective to be Bible Literature (looking at the Christian Bible from a literature point of view). My teacher encouraged everyone to say what things meant to them and there was no judgement or correction. We had a special needs student in our class who came with his student peer buddy. One day, my teacher stepped out to grab something and during that time Connor began to read Oh, the Places You'll Go! out loud to our class. When our teacher came back, Connor was still reading. Our teacher stood in the back until the book was done. Our teacher walked to the front of the room and said, "I can't beat that life lesson you just had. Write in your journals about the lesson you learned from the book, listening to Connor, choosing to all respect him, whatever you were impacted by just now." Connor's voice was heard and we all chose to listen, which for high school seniors and no teacher in the classroom is difficult.

Okay, so how can you apply this to your day-to-day when it comes to being heard? Try to live in the challenge zone. Push yourself to speak up when being spoken over. For example, I have become more and more diligent with saying "I understand you have something to say, but I haven't finished" or "Can you please wait for me to finish before you respond" and the other is "I didn't say that, here is what I said. Can you tell me how you interpreted that?" The last one not only puts an emphasis on what you SAID but it shows the distinction between how people HEAR things.

say it louder, louder

There are definitely times that I need to speak up more or be more assertive personally, especially with my loud family. So this is an ongoing learning experience that we can always improve upon.

So what areas or groups of people do you need to work on to help your voice be heard but also protect yourself?


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