Several years ago, my then line manager sent me on an assertiveness course for female managers.
I’d recently just taken on a role which involved liaising with outside agencies. I actually very much enjoyed that part of the job but my need for assertiveness was/is perhaps in other areas. Moreover, I appreciated the intent, as the line manager who’d preceded her had told me I’d never get anywhere because I did everything by conciliation and collaboration.
(For the record, I was/am quite happy with being conciliatory and collaborative and, to cut a long story short, I proved that particular person wrong a long time ago.)
But anyway, going back to the assertiveness course.
I was nervous and sceptical. I’d be meeting women who worked in the same sort of field as me, though not the same organisation. Some of them had quite scary roles. I anticipated sitting in the corner unable to get a word in (yes it does happen) and coming across as a mousy wallflower.
But… I met a room full of women who like me, could put on a face of confidence, but for various reasons, didn’t feel confident. It was a week of discovering what made us who we were and learning how to counter the things blocking us.
The many exercises included visualisations.
I’m a little dubious about visualisation as a means to manifesting change, and the first one on the assertiveness course reinforced this:
‘Imagine you’re behind a closed door.’
‘You’re in your best dress.’
[Mentally panic as I try to decide what to wear in this imaginary scenario.]
‘Your prettiest party dress.’
Party? Hang on…
‘The door opens… and every single person you know is there…’
‘And they’re looking up at you, because YOU are the centre of attention. YOU are the belle of the ball. EVERYONE is waiting to see what you’ll say or do next!’
What? Yell ‘Lemme outta here’ while running off like Cinderella? That’s an absolute nightmare scenario.
You can see why I was wary when another visualisation was mooted towards the end of the course.
By this point we’d blue-sky-thought our way through what our personal work aims and objectives were and what we needed to achieve. But we’d also talked about where we got our energy from, what made us happy in our inner selves and touched on what we wanted to achieve outside work. It was at this point that I realised that what I was learning from the course, was not just about assertiveness. It was also that due to work and motherhood etc etc, I had completely neglected my creative side to the detriment of my own joy.
The visualisation started:
‘Imagine something achievable which has your stamp on it.’
I was supposed to be thinking of the successful conclusion of my project, but the first thing that popped into my head was not work related. It was I want a room of my own.
‘Imagine it as a colour,’ said the facilitator, ‘what would it be?’
Teal, I thought, or aqua and silver. It would be like being under the sea.
‘If it had a mood, what would it be?’
Dreamy, creative, calm.
‘What will you be doing?’
Writing, sewing, painting…
‘How will success make you feel?’
‘What’s the first step you need to take?’
Tell my husband that I want the cold, neglected front room redecorated just for me. That’s not expensive – just paint and wallpaper.
‘And the next?’
Move the old desk from upstairs in there. Move a lamp.
‘And the next?’
Save up for a little sofa, but that can wait. It’s doable. It really is doable.
Out of everything I learned on the course, that’s the one thing I never forgot.
My family is lucky to have two sitting rooms (created by splitting a bigger room in half). I claimed the front one. My husband, very doubtful about the colours (though he loved them afterwards), redecorated and we eventually purchased a sofa in the right shade of blue. For a while, it was my space, even if, at the time I did little actual creating in it.
Then almost immediately the children got older and sort of annexed it as a music room/games room. I learned over the next couple of years to do my writing anywhere and because the space was handy for teenagers to go and chill and get out of my hair, I didn’t really mind.
Things were looking hopeful for a reconquest when my daughter (the youngest child) went to university. Then courtesy of Covid 19, my graduate son returned to live with us and needed the front room as his own office/studio/sitting room. But finally, he’s moved into his own place, taking desks, game consoles, random bits of audio editing equipment etc away with him and my room is now mine again.
It’s a re-work in progress, but it’s nearly my calm, under the sea creative place once more and as I was starting the process of getting that room back in order this weekend, I was reminded of that course from all those years ago.
Did I come out of it more assertive? Probably not much. But possibly I came out more self aware, more able to recognise blockers and be brave enough to move them and more conscious that I had a right to be heard. And I definitely came out determined that I had a right to express my creative self.
I don’t really think that visualising something will necessarily make it come true, but I think it can help focus the mind. And the other thing that helps is to break the path to the goal into manageable chunks.
Or, as someone in a meeting I was at once said ‘You can do it. But just don’t try to eat the elephant in the room all at once.’
Words copyright 2022 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.