Lately I've been experiencing a profound sense of feeling in control of my life. Both in freelancing and in my personal life.
It's come from taking a more proactive role in owning my decisions, and from getting better at telling people what I actually want instead of what I think they want me to want.
That sweet sweet passive aggressive communication style
For most of my life I've lived under this mistaken assumption:
If I tell people what I want, they will reject me.
If I am frustrated with a friend, I'd better keep quiet about it or there'll be drama.
If I need help on a client project, I'd better keep quiet about it or I'll be seen as weak.
If a joint collaboration isn't working out for me, I'd better not "complain" about it or I'll be seen as frustrating and hard to work with.
It sounds pretty unreasonable when you put it straightforwardly like this, but it's been this unwritten assumption in my subconscious for a long time. But assume it I have, and this has lead me to avoid open and honest communication for fear of rejection.
No More Mr. Nice Guy?
A book that had a major influence on my way of thinking was No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover. Though the book is primarily targeted to men, the principles apply to everyone.
A "nice guy" is someone who thinks that by acting "nice", other people will then do what the nice guy wants.
But being "nice" often means avoiding conflict and smoothing over anything that could potentially turn the slightest bit confrontational. The nice guy has to resort to indirect communication, which ultimately leads to manipulative communication.
If I can find just the right combination of indirect words and actions, I can compel you to do what I want.
But wait, I can't make anyone do anything. It's a fundamentally dishonest and toxic way of doing business, relationships, and also life in general.
Asking for what you want
Here's an example: You are considering working with a client on a project, and the client is on board ready to pay. But, you come to find it a good fit for you (whether due to tech stack, personality differences, whatever). You say yes anyway to "smooth over the situation" even though you secretly don't want to do it, and you now have two possible outcomes:
- You'll do a bad job and the client will be unhappy and you'll be unhappy.
- You'll do a good job and the client will be happy and give you more of that kind of work and you'll be unhappy.
Neither of these are good for you, but neither are either ultimately good for the client.
I've been getting better at this but it's taken time. About a year ago I was offered a design-heavy WordPress gig. I'm not exactly a designer and I knew that I wouldn't be able to deliver a good job even though it paid really well. I was fortunately able to say no, but not before seriously considering doing it anyway in a fit of people pleasing!
Asking for what you want usually doesn't lead to explosive anger and conflict, and often works out really well
Historically I assumed that empowerment would mean acquiring such a high mojo level that my charisma is so irresistible that people will literally always do what I want them to do. I've since come to determine that this is not desirable or (actually!) even necessary.
I've had about 5 "difficult" conversations in the last few months with people I have relationships of all kinds with about diverse topics. In each one, I was afraid of rejection. But nevertheless I expressed a concern or frustration or desire for change in a kind but direct way.
Not a single one ended in blows or insults or even raised voices! And every single situation led to an improvement in my life, and even led to better opportunities and outcomes than I had before.
Note that just because you ask for what you want doesn't mean you'll always get it! But, there's a much much higher chance you'll get it because, you know, the other person will know what you want.
Assuming you aren't a horrible human, the people in your life probably like you and want what's best for you and will work with you to find a mutually beneficial solution. And even if they say no, they probably won't hate you for it.
I don't think I realized this for a long time because I was always afraid to ask for a change. Boy should I have started doing this earlier!