Assertiveness

The most significant personal change I've gone through in the past few years is an increase in my assertiveness. I am a very different person from who I used to be, due to this change.

I am a stutterer. That, coupled with natural introversion, caused me to grow up avoiding any situation where I had to talk to anyone. Many people fear speaking because they think they will sound stupid, but a stutterer knows he will sound stupid no matter what he is saying. All through childhood and college, I avoided any role or situation that required me to speak up.

I was able to keep my mouth mostly shut for several years when I started working. I only had to talk to my boss and a few co-workers. So I was able to get things done, but I shied away from any roles or situations where I would have to speak my mind to people outside that circle. I also avoided looking for better jobs, because I dreaded the interview process.

Then, I got promoted. I was put in charge of development of an important project. I faced a crisis: my job now required me to speak to clients and higher level managers, and to tell other people what to do, but I didn't think I could do that. I considered all sorts of ways to avoid those responsibilities, but none made sense. So, I just decided I would just do it, because it was my job.

And a funny thing happened: it learned it was surprisingly easy. I asked people to do things, and they did it. I explained technical issues to clients, and they understood and believed what I was saying. I talked to those scary upper-level managers, and they turned out to be pretty cool guys who trusted my judgment. All my fears had been unfounded.

It makes me a little sad to think about all the missed opportunities I had before learning this simple lesson at age 35. I wish I had gone out and played with other kids instead of sitting in my room reading books. I wish I had taken advantage of everything that was available in college, instead of just sitting in the back row, keeping my mouth shut, and passing the tests. I wish I had talked to more girls when I was in my teens and twenties. I know there's no going back, so I just have to console myself by realizing that I won't have to miss future opportunites. I think I've finally grown up.

After my epiphany, I now have little sympathy for programmers who complain that their managers don't let them do what they want. Managers aren't stupid; if you think you have a good idea, then tell them about it and fight for it. If you don't like your job, then go get a better one.

Having become assertive myself, I have a greater respect for other assertive people. I once thought people like that were just arrogant jerks, but now I understand that they are just fighting for their beliefs and ideas the same way that I am. I would much rather argue with another intelligent assertive person than to try to talk to someone who just agrees with everything rather than presenting their own opinions.

I hate to sound like a motivational speaker, but this is the one lesson I've learned that I want to share with the world. If there is something you want to say, then say it. If there is something you want to do, then do it. Nobody else is going to say and do these things for you. The course of your life is up to you.

© 2003-2017 Kristopher Johnson