Let me start by telling you that I have been one of the worst possible offenders of this. If there was a way I could just minimize or soften anything I said, I did. See what I did there? While I knew it was something I should probably work on, the magnitude of what that one little word can do didn’t hit me until I recently heard my friend and podcast guest, Chanel, use it multiple times in our conversation to minimize her accomplishments. WHY DO WE DO THIS?!
And why did it take me getting protective of her to realize I did the exact same thing on a daily basis?
Those questions kept gnawing at me for days after our conversation so I decided to do a little experiment on myself. For the next few days I would notice every time I started to say or type the word ‘just.’ If I was using it to minimize myself, my time or my intentions, I would either drop the word entirely or replace it with another word that was more assertive. Want to know how many times I used it?? Well I can’t tell you because I lost count.
Going into the experiment I knew one area where I’d be unpleasantly surprised by how much I over-used the word: in client communications, whether verbal or written. “Can I just have a few minutes of your time to…” “I just wanted to reach out to…” “It will just take 10-15 minutes…” “Can you just allow me to take up the smallest amount of space possible so I don’t have to feel like I’m being pushy or an imposition?” Ok, I never actually said the last one but that’s the underlying message of all the other variations. How small can I make myself and my request of you so that you like me and don’t feel threatened by me?
I don’t doubt that some men deal with this but I KNOW I hear a lot more women use it and almost always in a way that borders on self-deprecating. They describe themselves as ‘just mothers’ or ‘just a small business owner’ or ‘just friends’ with that guy they want a full on romantic relationship with. That last one is a whole rant for another day but you get the point.
Unfortunately, this message is one that’s been internalized for far too long and for a lot of us it started at a very young age. I remember becoming hyper aware of my voice and presence around 6 years old. I was in a car with a friend of mine and her mother. I don’t remember what I did or said but I still remember the look of annoyance on her mother’s face when she said I was always too loud and too silly. I was crushed and suddenly became very aware of the fact that her mother didn’t like me. I tried to be less silly and more quiet during that playdate but I distinctly remember feeling scared and frustrated at not knowing how else to be or act. I was scared because I realized my behavior could make or break whether my friend’s mom let us continue to be friends. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or sad that we didn’t have many playdates afterwards.
From that point forward, I struggled between wanting to be more quiet and demure like some of my friends and feeling like I couldn’t possibly contain my energy or all the things running through my head that I was dying to share. Inevitably, I would stuff everything down until I couldn’t hold it in anymore and an explosion of silliness would erupt at an excessively loud volume. Then I would notice other girls roll their eyes at me or, worse, call me ‘crazy’ and the embarrassment and shame would set in that yet again I couldn’t act like everyone else.
Maybe you can think back on one particular experience like mine. Or maybe it’s years of off-handed comments said about you or about other women who had the audacity to take up space. Maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, I encourage you to try this experiment for the next 5 days. For now, don’t worry about changing the word. Make a point to notice all the times you use the word ‘just’ or any variation of it that minimizes your request, thought, time or self. If you want to track it and keep count, go for it. In fact, I encourage it.
Once you become aware of when and how you use the sentiment, then you can get to the work of adjusting it. Was it easy for me to drop ol’ faithful from my emails? Not really. Even once I realized what and why I was using it, I had to give myself a few pep talks about having a right to ask for time and consideration before removing the word and pressing send. Even while writing this blog post I’ve had to remove the word 5, yes FIVE, times. But the good news is I’ve changed enough habits in my life to know that it WILL get easier. I may back-slide and use it unnecessarily in conversation but now that I’m aware of it, it will get easier and easier to stop before I minimize myself.
The same goes for you. And for crying out loud, show yourself some grace. If you’re anything like me, you have used this word as a crutch for most of your adult life. You won’t change overnight and that’s okay. But I promise you this: if you keep working on this one habit for the next year, the way you carry yourself, the way you show up and speak up for yourself, WILL change. That’s a “How it started/How it’s going” challenge I can’t wait to see for you and myself in 2021.
Also, if you’d like to hear the conversation I had with my friend Chanel that inspired this challenge, you can listen here or on iTunes, Spotify and iHeartRadio. It’s Episode 7 : )
If you do the challenge, let me know! I’d love to hear from you