I want to be more assertive... I think? No, that's true. Right?
When you're too nice, too wishy-washy, or too self-deprecating, people tend to walk on you like a doormat. I don't blame them. I'm pretty much lying at their feet, yelling, "Do it! Walk on me, I love the feel of heels jabbing into my chest!"
I have trouble with passiveness, since I'm wary of being overly aggressive, or being seen as a too bossy or — god forbid — a total bitch. It's true some of my issues are steeped in unfair gender dynamics, but I want to take action now. It's at the point where my lack of assertiveness is negatively affecting me everywhere:
At Home: I've never confronted my landlord. Renting sucks because you have no say. Currently, my landlord won't renew our lease because he wants his daughter to move in. He emailed weeks ago, and I STILL HAVEN'T RESPONDED. Talk about passive.
At Work: I've never asked for a raise, and I've never gotten one. I'm in my late 20s, and I've never felt confident enough in myself and my abilities to ask for a raise. Part of that is from switching jobs often, and never feeling like I put in enough time to deserve one. Being a more assertive person might convince me I do deserve it. But how do I become that person?
I needed an alter ego. Someone who could confidently do all the things I couldn't. Maybe I could put on a mask and become the assertive person I always wanted to be.
If this was going to work, I had to see my plan through all the way, from creating the persona, gaining powers, and fighting my battles. I started by purchasing four costumes. Every superhero alter ego had to have a story. From there, I'd craft my powers and use them to keep my apartment and get a raise.
Based on my limited understanding of superheroes, I created the following:
The Black Rhino costume smelled DISGUSTING, but I also quickly realized it wasn't really for dressing up for Halloween (it was for sex stuff). That being said, this costume provided the most coverage, and was also had the easiest access for pooping. Unfortunately, my goal was to give myself more confidence, and this outfit and persona just did not do it for me.
As for Orgasma: WOW this outfit made no sense. Why did my legs need to be covered but my upper thigh exposed? Of course, if I have to confidence to pull this off, I must have the confidence to confront my landlord, right?
Superbae gave me what I had been wanting: a costume with a cape. This outfit was also the only one made not made from that weird nylon fabric that smells like fish.
Yes, Spiderbitch has a boob hole! Most recently modeled by Olivia Munn's Psylocke, the boob hole is a classy way to remind your opponents that you've got boobs. I
Out of the alter egos, I decided Superbae and Orgasma had the most potential, but Superbae felt both more comfortable and more empowering, so that's what I chose.
After our photoshoot, I commented to a friend that simply posing like a superhero had made me feel badass.
"Haven't you seen that power pose Ted Talk?" she asked. Apparently there was more to my conjecture than just a feeling.
That's how I found out about power pose theory.
Posing like a superhero actually been shown to increase confidence and make you feel more powerful, according to research by Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy. You can watch her TED Talk or read her book here. Although Cuddy has been criticized for her overstated conclusions (other researchers could not replicate her increased testosterone results), the sugar pill effect of posing was still supported. Test subjects consistently reported feeling more powerful in superhero pose. If it's just in my head, I'll take it.
For the next few weeks, I practiced power posing for a few minutes every morning. Normally I spastically rush out the door and arrive late for work. After posing, I felt much calmer. I would walk into the office late and confident.
Of course, posing in a costume wasn't enough. Superheroes have superpowers, and I would not stop until I had one.
I would defeat my passivity by kicking the shit out of it with super-strength.
I signed up for Krav Maga, a self-defense system developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that's basically a mix of aikido, judo, boxing and wrestling.
My superhero costume did not breathe well, and likely induced my body to produce an additional liter of sweat. Plus, nobody thought it was cool that I wore a costume to class. Note to self: wear it UNDER clothes in the future.
The class was not the beginner's class I had expected. We jumped right into wrestling, and I had no idea what I was doing. It was middle school gym class all over again. But I did come out of it with a pretty decent roundhouse kick.
Back at BuzzFeed, Vicky stood in as my arch nemesis, Passivity, so I could practice. With Krav Maga, you don't wait. You act assertively and you immediately counterattack.
Here are my big takeaways from my self-defense class:
Well on my way to super-strength, I decided it was time to learn another superpower.
Since my arch nemesis Passivity exists mostly in my mind, what better place to take the battle?
I reached out to Matthew Cooper, a NYC-based mentalist and mindreader, to help me harness my telepathic superpower.
"So how can I read minds?" I asked.
"You can't," Matt replied, "but I can show you how to fake it."
I had wanted a REAL superpower, but I guess I could make that work. The old "fake it 'til you make it" trick. For example, Matt told me you could beat a lie detector test by clenching your butthole — if you can convince a machine, you can definitely convince a person to believe you.
Next, Matt read my mind and figured out the passcode to my phone. When I got it back, he had left a note:
OK, he didn't really write that note... but I'm pretty sure he THOUGHT it.
After showing me how he did a few of the tricks, it was my turn to try it on other people, and prove that Superbae had the ability to read minds.
I asked Grace to think of shapes while subtly drawing the shapes with my hands. Then, when I drew a circle in a triangle, a shape that she imagined, she was FREAKED OUT.
Here are my big takeaways from Matt:
The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of suggesting ideas. People like to feel that they came up with the idea themselves. It's like the trick with drawing a circle and a triangle. In that way, it is possible to plant ideas in people's mind, like, "Hey, doesn't Sarah deserve a raise?"
Matt also read my mind by watching my body language. Matt found an object I had picked out in the room because when I focused on it, I send clear, unconscious signals where it was. If he moves in the wrong direction, my arm might slight pull back, showing him that he's going to wrong way. Sure, it took Matt ten years to be THIS good at it, but everyone can improve.
To pull off these feats of mentalism, you need confidence. You get that from repeatedly trying simple tricks and working up to harder ones. When it comes to the subjects you're interacting with, it's easier read people when they're comfortable. Start simple and make lots of eye contact.
With my persona, costume, and my telepathic superpower in place, it was finally time to send my alter ego into battle.
Battle 1: My Landlord
My landlord had to cancel my various attempts to talk in person, so I was forced to arrange a Skype date. Unfortunately, this meant my newfound mental powers were greatly diminished by crappy wifi connection.
Strategically, I didn't think I could stop him from kicking me out of the apartment, so I tried a different angle. As we spoke, I tried to plant the idea that should I move out, I should be refunded the giant broker's fee I paid to move in. Amazingly, he agreed that would be fair, but the broker would have to approve it. So I followed up with an email to both the landlord and broker stating the situation: I paid the giant fee assuming I would be in the apartment more than one year. In the end, I didn't have legal grounds to stand on, and the broker refused to make a compromise.
So yes, my landlord did kick me out and he couldn't give me a refund, but at least I'm not living in regret because I didn't ask. Failing wasn't that bad. I'm in the same place where I started; I'm certainly no worse off. I could only gain from being confident and trying. Feeling less afraid, I entered my boss battle.
Battle 2: My Boss
I took the mentalist's advice (and general good career advice) by highlighting my work achievements and strong work ethic to my boss. My mid-year evaluations were coming up, and though I knew my title wasn't changing, there was still room for my salary to increase.
Before my evaluation, I hid my Superbae costume under my clothes. I went into the bathroom and power posed for several minutes, trying to build my confidence.
Before our meeting began, I eased my bemused boss into my mind control by doing simple tricks.
I started by successfully pulling off a card trick where she drew a card — the 2 of clubs — and I correctly guessed it. Matt made me promise not to give away the secret to that trick, and as he is the love of my life, I will never betray him (all the cards in the deck were the same).
I had sufficiently eased her in, and I knew I couldn't hesitate. It was time to counterattack.
I held in my mind a figure that I hoped for as my new salary, and attempted to transmit it to my boss through intense eye contact.
At the end of my review, my boss told me that my new salary would be higher than the number I'd had in mind. It's impossible to know whether my telepathy had an impact, or whether this was the raise she'd been planning to give me in the first place, but either way, it didn't hurt me to be confident and assertive.
I hung up my Superbae costume with my mission mostly accomplished.
The supervillian Passivity had been banished from the realm. The confidence I gained from power posing, mind reading, and even that uncomfortable fighting class, made me realize that my passivity all came from the fear of failure. Superbae wasn't afraid of failure, and that's why I liked being her. She knew everyone failed. Even a mentalist with the power to read minds and steal yo heart isn't 100% right all the time. Sometimes you're wrong. Sometimes you might demand too much, or someone might think you're bitchy. But the world doesn't stop when that happens. And when I did succeed — like when I finally got that raise — it felt like all my work and worry and planning and fear had been worth it.
I'm happy to say that, for right now, I don't need to transform into my alter ego, Superbae, to be assertive.
I'm good with just being Sarah. I'm no longer a doormat. Or, at the very least, I'm now a very cool doormat that's been elevated to hanging on the wall as a piece of artwork for everyone to appreciate. People are like, "Whoa, that artwork's a doormat? I love that doormat. It's funny, cool, AND confident."