You need to be ready to become an advocate. To find out if you are, all you have to do is answer three quick questions:
1. Do you want to feel more confident when communicating?
2. Do you want to be a valued part of a team?
3. Do you want to feel more engaged in your activities and relationships?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions then you are ready to become an advocate for yourself: find out how to feel more empowered, increase your motivation, and establish a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in your daily life through self-advocacy.
Traditionally, we think of advocates as people who lend support either to an individual, or group of people. Advocates stand up for, and give a voice to people who struggle with being heard. They represent and actively support the goals and viewpoints of another person as if they were their own beliefs. Above all, an advocate fights to make sure the people being represented are treated fairly, their rights are upheld, and that they get the best possible outcome.
What if you could do all this for yourself?
The best person to represent your desires, goals, and beliefs is YOU! Once you learn how to apply the best practices of advocacy to your own life, the possibilities for your future become endless.
1. Believe in Yourself
The first step you must take on your journey to self-advocacy is to become your own biggest fan. Having a stellar support group, or the world’s most wonderful best friend is great, but it’s also important to know how to provide yourself with the same love and encouragement you get from others.
Self-assurance should not be confused with arrogance. Effective advocates must be able to wield command and respect. You have to believe strongly in what you are putting forth and fighting for, which in this case, is yourself. In order to advocate for something, your faith in it should be unshakeable. Believe that your dreams and ideas are worth pursuing because they always are.
2. Know Exactly What You Want
This can be applied in almost any situation. Are you walking into a meeting at work? Decide what response you want from your co-workers. Are you planning a family vacation? Determine ahead of time how you want it to go. Before you undertake an important task or engage in an activity, always ask yourself, “What is the best case scenario?”
Having a clear understanding of your own desired outcomes will help you realize your goals. Write out specific things you want from a situation that go deeper than, “I hope everything goes well.” Clarifying your vision also allows you to clearly articulate it to others. For example, before going on vacation, instead of saying something ambiguous like, “I want everyone to get along” you can be more precise and say, “I don’t want the twins to call each other names, and I would like for everyone to leave their cell phones at home so we have opportunities to connect with each other.” Often times, people don’t get what they want because adjectives like “good” and “happy” are too subjective.
3. Seek Out Mentors
There is always an expert for everything. Whatever your endeavor may be, find someone who is better, and more experienced than you are, and get to know them. In college, the most successful students are the ones who meet regularly with their professors and TAs.
Whether you are learning a new hobby like sewing, or trying to get a business started on Etsy, there is someone out there who has done it before and been successful. Find them, and then get to know these people so you can pick their brain and hopefully become their friend. We all need someone to advise us beyond our school years.
Keep practicing the first two steps here. Remind yourself that you are worth this person’s time, and have a clear idea of what you want to know, and how you will use their expertise to help yourself.
4. Ask Questions
Although we might not always admit it, many of us are afraid to raise our hands and open our mouths when something is confusing. To some, asking a question means admitting that you don’t understand, and this can sometimes make us feel ashamed. This unfortunate cycle is what causes people to clam up – instead of speak up – when they get confused.
In order to be completely invested and engaged in something, it is important that you fully understand it. How could a mental health advocate be effective if they didn’t understand how bipolar disorder affects a person’s life? When you feel as if someone is just giving you the brush off and trying to get you out the door, this can be disempowering. Take back the power by exercising agency through asking questions.
- You have the right to understand what your doctor is telling you.
- You deserve answers from your insurance provider.
- It is smart to ask clarifying questions when something isn’t clear.
Being an advocate for yourself means getting answers when you need them, so ask away!
5. Participate in Agenda Setting
If you really want your voice to be heard (and make it count) then it is a good idea to get involved in the decision making process. This could apply to an organization, family life, or yourself.
For example, if you are unhappy with something at your child’s school, become a member of the PTA. If you have concerns about community safety, start a neighborhood watch. People who feel empowered and confident in their abilities are the ones who take the necessary actions to achieve a desired outcome. When you serve as an advocate for yourself, you will develop the confidence and the know-how to get into action and solve your own problems.
If you are dealing with bureaucracy, this can be difficult, (if you’ve ever been to a City Council meeting you’ll know what I mean) but understanding the processes and procedures that lay behind the decisions which affect your life, is important. So stay involved, and don’t get discouraged.
For me, learning how to be an advocate for myself required a complete change in my perceptions. By applying these 5 simple steps to my daily life, I catapulted from passively accepting my circumstances, to actively initiating changes that would make my life richer, fuller, and better. Ultimately, we are stuck with ourselves for the long haul – no matter what. Self-advocacy is about transforming from being our own worst enemies, to our own biggest allies.
Article by Jessica Ruane