Taking Up Space

Do you ever find yourself trying to take up as little space as possible? I’m not talking physically (that’s a different topic altogether, whether we’re talking bodies or carbon footprints or something else), I’m talking emotionally. In your own life, in your relationships (romantic, platonic, familial), in your professional life, etc. Do you find that you’re always trying to accommodate everyone? Because you’re trying to be polite, or do what’s expected, or you don’t want to rock the boat or step on anyone’s toe or disappoint anyone … so you keep your thoughts, needs, wishes, ideas to yourself?

I didn’t realize how often I do that until a close friend pointed it out to me recently. And told me that it’s OK to take up space. I’m an adult as are the people around me. They can stand to hear  my ideas, accommodate my needs and wishes, and maybe be disappointed once in awhile. Why am I always catering to others and holding back what I really want or what I’m thinking? Is it a woman thing? Are we just conditioned to try to take up as little space as possible, to accommodate and take care of everyone else, and “good” women put themselves last? Is that what’s happening? I have no idea, and I haven’t spent a lot of time unpacking the “why” just yet. I’ve been focusing on allowing myself to take up space. To stop putting myself after others.

My husband has depression. It’s something he’s always had and been aware of since before we started dating, so it’s always something that I’ve been aware of. And for much of our relationship … I let it control me. I held back a lot of things because I was worried he wouldn’t handle it well. And, yeah, guess what? I ended up miserable. Imagine that, when you don’t share your needs with your partner, and ignore them, you can’t find happiness in the relationship.

But that changed a few years ago, I started being brutally honest about my happiness (or lack thereof). I did a lot of self-discovery and was honest with him about my needs. It wasn’t easy, and maybe he did freak out a little. But in the end … my needs are taking up space in my marriage, and we’re living with them. Happily, I might add. It was a little scary going down this path, but we’re on the other side and it’s working out.

My professional life is another area where I hesitated to take up space. I suffered through responsibilities and projects I didn’t really like because they were assigned to me, and that’s what good employees do. I sat in meetings with my own ideas on what was being discussed, but often kept them to myself for fear that they weren’t “good” enough. Even though what would constantly happened is someone else would eventually say what I was thinking and everyone would agree that was a good point/idea.

But you know what happened when I started being honest with bosses about the work I enjoyed (and didn’t enjoy) doing? They listened. Changes didn’t happen overnight. But over time, things happened. My work shifted. Things I didn’t enjoy doing got assigned to someone else. I got more responsibilities in line with what I did enjoy. I received training (paid for by my employer) in things I wanted to learn. Work became much more enjoyable.

I also started speaking up. Asking questions. “Poking holes.” And people listened. Validated that I brought up good points/ideas worth exploring. As a result, I can help our team build better things. Just because we’ve hired like a million consultants, I do have my own skill set and frame of reference and bring a necessary point of view that I need to share … because no one else will. And in my current role, I’m the one who has to live with the results day-to-day, so I need to share my concerns.

So now, I kind of like taking up space. I’m not going to take up space just for the sake of doing so, but I’ve tested the waters … and things turned out well. No one is going to use your voice for you, so if you don’t share what’s in your head … no one else will. And you’ll have to live with the results. So start taking up some space. People will get used to  it. If they care about you, they’ll listen, and they’ll make room for you. And if they don’t, then they’re not worth your space anyway. But no one is going to make the room for you, you have to force it out there for yourself.

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