If You Don’t Ask…
I’ll take this opportunity to tell the world about my paternal grandmother, my nana Edna.
I spent many of my formative years stuck to her hip. She was my summer child care and as the matriarch of our family, her home was “Grand Central Station”. While many conversations and memories with her stick out as helpful, the most impactful thing that my nana imparted to me, was self-advocacy. “If you don’t ask, the answer is already ‘no’. Never be afraid to ask and say what you need.” This piece of advice has lent itself to everything that I do as a creative, performer and teaching artist. In any scenario that I feel uncomfortable with or need more information from to better inform my decision-making, her words ring through my mind. Even when I feel like it may cause an issue, I have to be sure and advocate for myself.
As humans, sometimes we worry about the space and energy we take up instead of our actual needs. If someone asks me to perform and they don’t mention payment, do I keep on going forward with discussions or do I stop and ask about payment? I stop and ask. If I’m booked to perform and I need to ensure that the venue can accommodate a request, do I just show up and hope they can, or do I ask ahead of time? I stop and ask. Self-advocacy is hard starting out. But it gets easier. Sometimes people don’t know what you need, so you have to (in the words of Leigh Solomon), “Say what you need.”. So I do. I say what I need. I ask.
I worry less about being a nuisance to someone and worry about my own comfort so that I can get the job done to my standard. Is there a balance to this? Absolutely, but never speaking up for yourself doesn’t make you look “nice” it makes you appear as someone who accepts less than they deserve.
As someone who struggled with setting boundaries and saying “no” earlier in life, it was hard to develop the practice of self-advocacy. I would load my schedule up with everything, get burned out, and suffer in silence as I put a harmful strain on my body and mental health. At a breaking point, I decided to advocate for myself so that I could end the cycle. I decided my fear of rejection or hearing the word “no” from others wasn’t worth suffering over. Speaking up and being transparent bought me more time and mental space. It went from speaking up for myself in business to doing so in my personal life as well. I ask I get clarification, I speak up.
Each time I lean into my nana’s wisdom, I can almost certainly feel her nodding in agreement and smiling at me. If I can share this with you, dear reader, to put into practice starting now, I’ve done my job.
Writer’s Note: I LOVE YOU NANA! (I’m also going to tell you that if you’re reading this, I’m her favorite grandchild. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.)