Finding my voice

Understanding how to let myself be heard

Alyssa Yang



She’d made a mistake.

That thought rattled in my head as I watched my friend demonstrate the audition routine for the younger kids at my dance studio. She was teaching choreography that was different from what they had learned the previous day. My first instinct was to speak up and correct her, but I hesitated — would that only confuse the kids more? Did she know she was doing the wrong moves, and just not care?

Anyone who didn’t know me when I was younger would be surprised to learn I used to be so talkative it drove everyone around me up the wall. In elementary school, I would babble to all my friends about anything and everything, at great volumes and speeds relative to how excited I was. On one occasion, I remember overhearing my first-grade teacher scolding a classmate for talking in class when he should have been working, using me as an example. “Alyssa talks a lot, but at least she’s good at spelling,” she said. I was mortified. I didn’t even realize I was so talkative.

As I got older, I noticed myself becoming less eager to start conversations or talk in public, though initially, this didn’t bother me. Regardless of how much I would talk, I had always been the cheerful and easygoing one among my friends and family. Becoming more reserved as I grew older didn’t seem that strange.

Then I entered high school. I joined clubs and extracurriculars — in particular, the dance team — and all of a sudden I was thrust into an environment where talking to people I didn’t know and sharing my own opinion, even if it was unpopular, became necessary skills.

I was horrible at it. During dance team practice, I’d deliberately withhold advice and corrections for the team because everyone already seemed satisfied, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. When I was given an incomplete schedule during a training camp, I was confused but willing enough to work with what I had, until an older teammate forcibly steered me towards talking to our coach. Eventually, I was forced to accept that somewhere along the line, I’d become so used to going with the flow that I’d become afraid of speaking up.

Actually fixing the problem still seemed incredibly daunting. Then came sophomore year, when I joined El Estoque. I felt awkward approaching strangers for interviews and asking editors to help me with my articles, but the opinions and anecdotes people were willing to share, as well as the suggestions and critique the editors gave me, were rewarding enough to make my discomfort seem trivial. It helped that everything was part of an established system. I wasn’t doing anything extraordinary; though I was coming out of my comfort zone, I was only doing something that was expected of me and which I eventually began to enjoy, which made it easier.

I haven’t magically become the person I want to be. At the dance auditions, I ended up staying quiet, only for my friend to realize her mistake and apologize for having taught the wrong moves. Some of the very first feedback I received from my El Estoque editors was that I needed to talk to my classmates more and not just go along with everyone else’s opinions. However, I refused to let my mistakes feel like the end of the world. After all, I am trying, and I can see myself improving.

I still hate talking in class and let other people take the wheel for group projects, but now, I make a greater effort to be vocal about issues I believe need to be fixed. I still wince internally every time I offer advice during a dance rehearsal, but I’m sharing my honest thoughts, and that’s what matters. After auditions at my dance studio, I found myself hesitating again about whether to tell the director that I’d noticed a lot of the younger girls were having the same problem with their technique. In the end, I convinced myself to tell her. Though she mentioned she had already noticed, she told me she was glad that I had brought it up and started discussing with me how I could help fix it. Speaking up had helped someone, and that felt good.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as comfortable speaking up as I was in elementary school, and that’s OK, because that’s just not who I am anymore. Doing so is still an enormous struggle — even over the smallest things — but I’m still learning. While the journey towards no longer second-guessing everything I say seems incredibly long, I have faith that little by little, I’ll become comfortable expressing what I want and what I think, and I’ll find my voice.