I have always been aware of my number one weakness: non-assertiveness. But I have come a long way from the time when I couldn't say 'no' to a child molester and not understanding the importance of telling my parents.
At my first job after high school, I had the misfortune of working for someone who told me that I could have it all but with no questions asked. He said so clearly that there were women who slept their way up and I could do the same. He then started to hold me tightly and was already groping all over. I was too stunned to move in the beginning but I did try to push him away. Luckily for me, a security guard walked into the office.
Some guardian angels must be looking out for me. On both incidents, I could have been a statistic. I didn't have the courage to tell anyone but I made a promise to myself that if I should ever climb the corporate ladder, I would do it with my brains.
Unfortunately, my parents didn't have the extra money to put me through four years of university. I worked as a tutor to three kids throughout my tertiary years and with a scholarship loan, I managed to finish my degree in journalism with a second class upper.
I took on the first job that came my way: as a seminar organizer. Again the same old pattern emerged. For six months my boss didn't contribute to my retirement account. I was not aware that it was unlawful. Then she made me answer calls from all the speakers I had invited to give seminars for payments due to them. She had purposely delayed paying them for reasons only known to her. I couldn't see a good future with her, so I quit.
Many of my course mates had joined the newspaper and there was an opening for a cub reporter. I got in and was learning the ropes pretty well at the news desk. Six months later, I was transferred to the features desk.
It was all rosy in the first year and because I was getting familiarized with the work and all, I gladly took on anything that came my way. Not such a smart move really. Whenever my editor asked for a volunteer for some uninteresting articles, no one would do it. And because I had set the pattern for being the obliging one, or rather the one who couldn't say 'no' most of the time, I had to do the assignments. I had never asked for extension of deadlines and I was also the "secretary" who took phone messages for the others. When the time came for assessment and salary increments, I was not the favoured staff. After two agonizing weeks, I finally plucked up enough courage to speak to my editor about it. She merely said: "I was happy with your work. All I did was to recommend (the increments) but really, it was up to the management to decide!"
Would you stay on with a leader who wouldn't stick up for you? I asked for a transfer to the business desk where its editor was a known task master but fair and just.
Six years later, I found myself in a greater challenge. My five-year old daughter was a victim of a class bully at her kindergarten. From the many books on bullying that I read about, I had gathered that so long as the victims were not coached to be assertive and helped to build their self-esteem, the chances of them remaining victims continued into adulthood.
Since then, I have been trying to help my daughter increase her self-esteem. One of the many ways I learnt is to teach a child to love herself. Well, we are still working on her remembering to say: "I love you Mummy. And I love myself too."
I knew repeating this mantra would only help for awhile. One evening driving through a heavy traffic I made up a story to entertain my kids. It was about a six-year old girl named Lulu who would do anything for her friends because she wanted to be liked by them. Lulu didn't like herself much because she didn't think her kind-heartedness amounted much. "Now, if you were Lulu, do you suppose your friends would like you if you didn't like yourself in the first place?" I asked my children.
I was surprised even my two and half year old boy simultaneously replied no with his sister.
The story continued with Lulu being asked to pick some fruits from a tree by her friends. As she was climbing up the tree, fiery red ants bit her all over. But because she feared rejection from the others if she quit, she carried on. When she started to yank a bunch of fruits from a branch, she inadvertently dropped a beehive onto the ground.
The story ended with Lulu being hospitalized for bee stings but she learnt an unforgettable lesson about self-love and being assertive.
Now whenever my daughter needs a reminder about self-love, all I need to mention is Lulu.
Pat is a freelance journalist and a mother of two lovely kids. She enjoys writing and sharing her experience of being a mother. You can read more of her writings at KlinikOng.com