When it comes to your career are you taking up space or playing small?
Taking up space means feeling comfortable with being seen and being heard. It means that you’re not waiting for permission to speak up or sit at the head of the table. It means allowing your true, authentic self to shine.
Playing small, on the other hand, can mean hiding your light in a bushel. You’re afraid to speak up or stick out for fear of getting in trouble or rubbing people the wrong way. You stick to old habits, routines, and beliefs that may undermine your growth.
We’ve all been advised to take up more space, but, for various reasons, it’s not always so simple. Whether it’s limiting beliefs or being underrepresented at your office or working at an organization with a strict hierarchy, the act of taking up space can leave you feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.
While it may not feel easy or even natural, an important part of growing in your career is to learn how to take up more space. Making a concerted effort to take up more space can change the way you perceive yourself, and, in turn, change the way others perceive you.
Below are techniques you can use to help you become more comfortable with taking up more space.
Ease the growing pains
Maybe you’re seeking a leadership role or looking to be taken more seriously at work. But you’re struggling to adapt to this new and unfamiliar persona. You might even cling to limiting beliefs and convince yourself you’re not cut out for this “new you.”
But you need to move through the clumsy, awkward stage before achieving real growth. Here are some ways that you can make the growing pains a bit more bearable.
Recite mantras. Keep the limiting beliefs and negative thoughts at bay with empowering mantras. Positive affirmations can make a huge difference in the way you think and behave. Keep a list of inspirational quotes in your notebook. Or recite them right before work. With regular practice, you will feel much more confident and comfortable as you take up more space.
Make a list of people you admire. Who are the people in your life that you respect? Use them as inspiration. It doesn’t matter if these people are real, fictional, or historical figures. They possess a character trait or an aspect that you admire and can emulate. Read their biographies and memoirs. Follow them on social media. Then, channel these inspirational people whenever you need to feel comfortable with taking up space.
Take a seat at the table. Literally.
The next time you go to a meeting, don’t head straight for the back of the room. Instead, let yourself take a seat at the table.
If you work at a company with a formal hierarchy, you might feel restricted by your title and position. It’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t deserve a seat at the table because you’re not senior or important enough. But if the situation is appropriate, then let yourself sit at the table–or even at the head!
It might seem nerve-racking at first, but it's probably a bigger deal to you than it is to the other people in the room.
And it’s worth it to take a seat. You’ll be well-positioned to take good meeting notes and contribute to the discussion.
So next time, instead of waiting for permission, go ahead and take a seat. The more you do it, the easier it will feel. And the more comfortable you will get with taking up more space in other aspects of your career.
Take your time when you speak
If you’re not used to speaking up at meetings, you might feel the need to rush your words and get it over with as quickly as possible. Some people are just naturally fast talkers, but if this isn’t your natural cadence, then try to work on slowing down your delivery. Take your time and permit yourself to be heard.
Tips on how to slow down:
Practice. Try rehearsing what you’re going to say before the meeting. Or rehearse in front of a colleague or friend you trust.
Record yourself on your phone. It’s very possible that you have no idea that you’re speaking quickly. Listening to a recording of yourself can give you a better idea of how to adjust.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So you’re giving a presentation and people are yawning or checking their phone. Don’t take this as a sign to speed up. Sometimes, people just tune out, and we have to roll with the punches when it occurs. With practice, you’ll feel more comfortable in these situations and you’ll improve as a public speaker.
Create your own opportunities
Instead of asking for permission or waiting around for someone to give you permission, go out there and create your own opportunities. Here’s how:
Practice informal leadership. You want to be seen as a leader in your workplace but you feel confined by your title. Then demonstrate informal leadership. Become the go-to person for HR advice. Take the reins of a team meeting. Find a niche and become an expert in it. Word of mouth will build and soon you’ll earn a solid reputation at your office.
Take classes. Expanding your skill set will not only help you grow in your role but it will build your confidence for taking up more space.
Take small risks. Take a small risk everyday to get out of your comfort zone and grow in your career. Maybe it’s challenging yourself to speak up at a meeting a day. Or get to know your coworkers better. Or reach out to someone on LinkedIn. These are all small, but effective ways to help you take up more space.
Taking up space is like building a muscle. It will be hard and uncomfortable at first but the more you do it, the easier it gets. And it will pay off dividends in the long run.
Written by JiJi Lee.