I first started finding my voice in university. I went far away from my home in Oakville, Ontario, to the beautiful little Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec. It was tough being away from my family and high school friends, but it was also one of the best decisions of my life.
During my first year at university, Bishop’s full-time students numbered about 1800, which was only a little larger than my high school. The small size, in addition to the rampant partying at the school, allowed me to make some life long friends, and a huge amount of acquaintances. I would walk 15 minutes to campus in second year, and be able to say hi or wave to about half of the people I saw.
It was here that I realized that my voice was valuable. In class, at parties, and in extra-curricular activities, I started speaking up and voicing my opinions. I had done this a little in high school, but I didn’t think anyone was listening to me. Now, at university, I was not just saying words, but making my statements heard.
Between my third and fourth year at school, I decided to take some time off and do some travelling. I travelled for 10 months throughout Europe and Australia, and most of my travel was done solo. I had to speak to complete strangers at a new hostel every few days, in addition to meeting locals (many of whom did not speak English) on a daily basis. I gained a sense of independence and self-confidence that had eluded me before: if I could navigate my way around a foreign city, I could do anything.
After completing my university degree, I found a couple of jobs and moved to Toronto. I was working as an executive assistant at a retail design firm, and also giving tours on the big red sightseeing buses. As the youngest person in the retail design firm (by several years), I focused on being clear and well-spoken, and through a lot of trial and error (as well as some very supportive bosses), I learned to state my thoughts confidently.
A few months into these employments, I also started doing improv comedy. Once I got over my stage fright (six months and countless silent performances later), I felt pretty confident going up on stage and being ridiculous in front of a crowd. I was finding my voice, and learning to use it.
I left those jobs to cycle my way across Canada, and when I returned I started working at a fitness facility, which included a pool and gym. I was working as a lifeguard in the pool, and a sort-of consultant in the gym – basically, I was enforcing rules, while also getting to know members.
This meant that a lot of people didn’t like what I had to say. A lot of people were either defensive and rude to me, or angry and aggressive. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great people there, but on bad days they were often overshadowed by a horrible member’s behaviour. I had a guy yell at me for several minutes because I asked him to put his bag in a locker. I got called more names than I care to recount.
Even when I had pleasant conversations with members, I was still guarding my tongue. I stopped stating my opinions because no one wanted to hear them; people were happier talking at me than to me.
There were also a lot of sexist undertones to the conversations I started having. When I was carrying a 45 lbs. weight up a flight of stairs, someone told me it was good practice for motherhood. While I was cleaning a machine, a guy told me I would make a great housewife. I had to explain to a member why it wasn’t ok for him to say to his male buddies that he loved Lululemon while I was walking away from him.
I also started watching the way I spoke to members: I found that asking politely and succinctly worked better when enforcing rules, because it meant I wasn’t embarrassing anyone. Apparently men don’t like having behaviour corrected by a female, especially in a gym setting.
I started realizing that new people I was meeting (outside of the gym and pool environments) weren’t getting to know the real me, because I was getting lost under layers of fear, self-doubt, and apathy. My stage fright came back, and I stopped pushing myself to try new things. I was at a complete stand still and started getting frustrated with myself for my lack of drive and passion. I was losing the things I loved about myself.
And then I quit my job.
I quit because this wasn’t the career path I wanted to be on, and also because I had identified the source of my stalemate. My job was making me doubt myself and my abilities, and stopped me from being myself, finding a vocation I was passionate about, and pursuing hobbies that I loved.
I’m two and a half weeks out of work, and I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I’ve been doing my challenges, writing, reading, doing good improv again, podcasting (more to come), cycling, leading tours, making friends with strangers, reaching out to old friends, and applying to amazing jobs. I feel more confident; I’m starting to recognize again that my opinions are valid, and that by not speaking up and out I am denying people the privilege of getting to know me and hear my voice. Because I’m worth knowing.