I was a quiet kid. Really quiet. I spoke softly, when I talked at all. I always behaved in class; I rarely spoke up, and I always did my homework. I certainly didn’t talk back, or even consider the idea. I followed the rules. To this day, I get nervous about breaking rules. I thought I would spend my whole life being quiet. I didn’t speak in front of people or give speeches unless required. Even in college, I remember walking with a friend once down a street, telling her a story. She declared: “Nicole, I can’t HEAR you.” I didn’t know I could be loud, nor did I think I cared.
I was quiet. That was fine. That was me.
Then I started teaching yoga, and I got feedback to speak up; people couldn’t hear me in the back. I tried to project, and still got the same feedback. Once, I wondered aloud to my dear friend and mentor Michel Spruance how I could find my fire and project more. She cut me off.
“Nicole. There is no finding fire. You ARE fire. Look at your life and all that you’ve done.
Just BE FIRE.”
I was taken aback. Me? Fire? I relate to earth. People tell me how grounded I am. Fire felt foreign, weird. I was jealous of fiery people, and yet I didn’t think it was me. It made me nervous to think about drawing attention to myself through my voice. Inside, I wondered, “What if I didn’t have anything good or useful to say? What if what I had to say didn’t matter?”
I knew me not speaking up was affecting my students, and that motivated me. So I chipped away, pushing myself to speak louder in class. It was hard. I felt like I was yelling, even at normal volume. One teacher told me to think about yelling across the playground, like she did with her kids. Every time I did it, I felt obnoxious.
Still, I kept doing it. I learned to project from my gut. I saw I could use my voice to move people’s energy. I saw I could speak deeper into their minds and emotions by projecting my voice. I saw that it was worth using my voice to tell them what I had to say.
To this day, I feel that tendency to hide come up. I notice it first in the volume of my voice. It is almost always because I doubt myself. I worry I haven’t thought something through, and my voice drops. My childhood tendency to be quiet, to disappear into the back, takes over. It’s also the culture that surrounds me, both as a woman, and especially as an Asian-American. Be quiet. Look pretty. Follow the rules. Don’t speak up.
In those situations, I give myself a little shake and tell myself “STOP.” I lecture myself, so the quiet girl stays in my past. This work to speak up means I am now sometimes asked to speak up in big ways, in front of hundreds of people. It still feels nerve-wracking. And, I muster my fire and my biggest voice. It takes practice, so I say yes when asked to speak publicly, and I get better. It’s one way to make a difference. I speak up in other ways, such as sharing the energy work I know the world needs. I speak up by working with you to shake off the desire to suppress yourself, and to be the person you are meant to be. I will speak up this week with my vote.
If your inner critic has you keeping your voice hidden, your voice quiet, your life muted, you, too, can stand up. If this quiet girl can do it, you can, too. I am with you.