Take a stand. You’ll feel so much better.
By Tim Smith
I was a very shy quiet kid when I was growing up. I won’t get into the family dynamic that made me that way, except to say that I was the youngest and my father was what you’d now call a micro-manager. I used to get picked on a lot at school, and when I went away to college, the first class I took was Self-esteem 101.
It took me getting out on my own and being fully responsible before I learned to open my mouth and stand up for myself. Then I had to learn to do it with restraint when I realized that the wrong words can hurt as much as a hard right to the kisser.
By the time I became a professional writer years ago, I had become more at ease with speaking to crowds and handling criticism. Good thing, too, because I quickly discovered that in the world of romance writing, a guy who tried to make that scene wasn’t entirely welcome. The fact that I chose to write under my own name, instead of hiding behind something like, say, T.M. Smith, didn’t help.
The first time I attended a romance reader/author event, I was in for a shock. I knew that my presence wouldn’t be greeted with a bouquet of roses, but some of the reactions I got were downright hostile. Many of the attendees—readers and authors alike—treated me like a lecherous uncle who snuck into a slumber party. I quickly decided to change tactics and turned on all the charm I could muster.
One of the sponsors was a friend whose online site was handling the PR for my latest book. On the list of attending authors, I noticed the name of a woman whose book I had recently read and favorably reviewed. I told my friend that I wanted to meet her to tell her how much I liked her book, and she arranged it.
When my friend made the introduction, she noted that I was a writer of contemporary romance, too. The author looked at me like I was a homeless guy who had shown up at her front door at dinner time, then stumbled “But—but…you’re a man!”
I smiled and said “Thank you for noticing. I’ll try to do better next time.”
My early streak of outspokenness eventually developed into a need to stand up for others, especially those who were at a disadvantage. This is probably why I spent most of my career as an advocate for the developmentally disabled. After I retired last year, I had time to think about why I had made it my life’s work. Perhaps it was my way of making up for all the times when I was a scared little kid who didn’t have the courage to stand up to those playground bullies.
It also produced one of the character traits that I really felt comfortable with, one that definitely goes against the grain in today’s culture. I decided that if I had made a mistake or done something wrong, the best recourse was total honesty and taking responsibility. I get in front of situations like that, especially when I realize that I’m wrong. Rather than make up a lame excuse or try to pin the blame on someone else, I freely admit when I make a bad decision. It may have cost me a promotion or a few friendships over the years, but man, did I start feeling better about myself!
As a postscript, I’m still reaping the rewards of being assertive, but in a positive way. My post-retirement job is Managing Editor for a weekly arts and entertainment publication. To say that my boss, the owner/publisher, is difficult to work for is an understatement. Attila the Hun had better people skills. At least several times a week, he instigates a shouting match, and when he lobs a grenade at me, I toss one back at him. Lately, he’s been doing less of it.
Maybe he’s finally figured out that he isn’t going to push me around. Or it’s because I’m several inches taller, twenty pounds heavier and a helluva meaner than he is. Whatever works.