The impact of a comment from 20 years ago

I've been questioning why I've been so reluctant to be more outspoken, more disruptive, more activated in my daily life. Sure, I speak out - every once in awhile, but it takes a lot these days to get me riled enough to post on Facebook. Mainly because being numb to all that is happening feels like the safest (and sanest) option.

It wasn't until I was folding laundry that had been in the dyer for a week that my mind wondered back to a time when I was told I talked too much.

I had just started working at an environmental nonprofit and was sent to a weeklong activist training in Florida with two other coworkers.

I was so excited. Beautiful location. Manatees and palm trees and 100 or so people all committed to making the world a better place. 

And I have to admit, I rocked it. I showed up powerfully. I lead my group. I was creative and opinionated and bold and also supportive, caring, and a true team player. I mean, seriously, I was on fire. It was one of the best weeks of my life.

Still, to this day, I look to that week as proof that I am a powerful, courageous leader and activist.

But what has also stuck with me was a comment made to me at the very end of the retreat. We were in circle for the last time and the exercise was to give (and receive) praise and critical feedback to each person on the team.

Now, usually when people are asked to critique someone else in a group, they tend to play it nice and hold back the bad stuff. And that was what was happening, until it was my turn to be in the hot seat.

Everyone was saying amazingly nice things - you came up with brilliant ideas, you were such a team player, blah, blah, blah.

I don't remember the rest. But you know what I do remember. 

The one negative comment from one of the guys in my group. 

He told me I talked too much and that I needed to only say things once but think about what I was saying so that people actually listened the first time I said it. He said I repeated by thoughts because I wasn't confident in what I was saying and that if I would be more thoughtful and concise with my words, people would take me more seriously.

Um, ouch.

Over the years, I've thought about that comment several times, passing it off as true, sometimes, absolutely ridiculous other times.

But it wasn't until today that I realized the damage it had done.

For a man to tell me to shut up and be quiet.
To be told to watch what I say.
To believe that I can only be seen as powerful when I use the perfect words at the perfect times.

And I wonder how many other times throughout my life I had been told something similar - from men, and women.

How many times have I been told to pipe down, don't be so preachy, be quiet, speak only when spoken to, think before you speak, don't be so rude or loud or disrespectful or out of place.

You get my point.

But now, when what is needed most is for me to speak out and be disruptive, I am my quietest.

The power of a comment made 20 years ago. 

Am I really going to let that stop me from being who I need to be? Who I am called to be? What I am made to be?

I want to say no. I want to be like all, you can't shut me up, you can's stop me.

But this is going to be something I work through over and over again.

Everyday I will wake up and decide to speak out, to speak up, to share my truth, to own my story.

Every. Single. Day.

Because what I have to say and what I am here to do is too important to allow a throwaway comment from way back when stop me from changing the world.