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Why Being Assertive & Advocating for Yourself Matters

Last updated December 5, 2023

Many college and job experiences require assertiveness and self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is all about effectively speaking up for yourself, while assertiveness (or being assertive) is how you express yourself and stand up for your point of view. Both characteristics are about taking action to bring about positive outcomes in different areas of your life, like at school, work, in your community, or even within your family. It's like having your own superpowers to navigate these exciting but challenging phases of life! Here’s why being assertive and advocating for yourself matters, and how it can empower you to create a fulfilling and successful future.

Two people talking across a table in a bright room - Why Being Assertive & Advocating for Yourself Matters

Assertiveness is a skill that everyone can benefit from

By being assertive, you can effectively express yourself and confidently defend your perspective while still acknowledging and respecting the rights and beliefs of others.

The power of assertiveness goes beyond effective communication– it plays a significant role in boosting your self-esteem and earning the respect of those around you. As a result, assertiveness becomes a valuable tool in managing stress. This is especially true if you find yourself burdened with excessive responsibilities because saying "no" is a challenge for you. While some individuals naturally possess assertiveness, it's important to note that it is a skill that can be learned and developed with time.

How to practice being more assertive

Here are some strategies to help you practice your assertiveness:

  • Pay attention to what you think, feel, want, and prefer. You need to be aware of these things before you can communicate them to others!
  • Notice if you say "I don't know," "I don't care," or "it doesn't matter" when someone asks what you want. Stop yourself. Instead, practice saying what you'd prefer, especially on things that might not matter as much to you.
  • Practice asking for things. Examples include: "Can you please pass me that pen?" or "Can you save me a seat?" This builds your skills and confidence for when you need to ask for something more important.
  • Give your opinion. For example, say whether or not you liked a movie you saw and why.
  • Practice using "I" statements such as: "I'd like..." "I prefer..." or "I feel..."

Finding your voice through self-advocacy

When decisions are being made that directly impact you, or when conditions come up that affect your well-being, it is your absolute right to speak up boldly. You have every right to assert your own best interests and ensure that your voice is heard. Yet, it's common for many of us to feel uncomfortable when it comes to advocating for ourselves. Self-advocacy is a skill that can be learned, but not everyone has had the opportunity to witness it being practiced or to practice it themselves.

What does it mean to advocate for yourself?

Self-advocacy is about speaking up, expressing your needs, and seeking support when necessary. It's not about being pushy or demanding, but rather, having the confidence to stand up for yourself in a respectful and assertive manner. Here are some examples that show what it means to advocate for yourself in college, with strategies on how to approach each situation:

Academic Challenges

Picture yourself struggling with a grade you received or finding it hard to grasp certain concepts in class. Instead of accepting defeat, be proactive! Talk to your professor, ask for help, or seek clarification. Remember, professors are there to guide you, and taking the initiative to seek help shows your commitment to learning.

Accommodations at Work and School

If you have unique learning needs or face challenges due to a disability, don't hesitate to request accommodations. In fact, in college, students must initiate the accommodation process themselves. Whether you need extra time for exams, accessible materials, or other support, advocating for yourself ensures you have an even playing field to succeed academically and professionally.

Financial Matters

The FAFSA process can be complex, and sometimes things don't go as planned. If you face verification or rejection issues, don't panic. Reach out to financial aid advisors, ask for explanations, and explore alternative options. Being your own advocate when it comes to your education and finances is crucial.

Seeking Guidance

Your college journey can be overwhelming at times. That's where your counselor or academic advisor comes in. Reach out to them for guidance on course selection, career paths, or any other concerns you may have. They're there to support and guide you through this exciting phase. 

Surrounding Yourself with Support

Recognize that you don't have to face challenges alone and that you can build a network of support around you! Seek out mentors, connect with classmates who share your goals, and don't shy away from utilizing mental health resources if needed. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Other resources

Sometimes, past experiences can stop us from speaking up, or we may struggle to believe that our needs are valid and worth fighting for. Here are resources to explore that can help you grow in this area. Consider this your training guide:

These books can help you learn practical strategies to boost your self-confidence and enhance your self-advocacy skills—essential tools to unlock your potential and achieve your goals!

Self-advocacy and assertiveness begin with a deep understanding of yourself, your values, and what truly matters to you. When you have this clarity, the boundaries you establish become like safety rails, guiding both yourself and those around you.

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