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A Tale of Being Assertive

Feb 16, 2023 | Daily Trek, Tales from the Trek

On Being Assertive - Radical Trekking - Ayelet Baron

To Be Assertive; or Not to Be

To me, being assertive involves expressing thoughts, feelings, and needs in our own way. I love being around people who are free of judgement or a need for conformity. Because we often simply laugh a lot!

Today, I am sharing some tales from my trek on learning to choose myself over and over.

When I first started my career, I worked in market research. I had just fired myself from my PhD studies at a prestigious university, even though I was very close to becoming Dr. Baron. But experiencing disillusionment with the lack of freedom of thought in academia was very real. And constantly being admonished for thinking differently and bringing new approaches to the forefront.

One of my advisors took me into his office after my written and oral exams, which I passed. This professor said, “while I totally agree with you here with the two of us, I can’t do it publicly.” And when I asked him why, he told me my thinking was way too controversial and out there. Another advisor instructed me that I was “walking too many dogs on one leash.” I needed to limit my thinking, according to her, and follow proper academic discipline.

On Being Assertive

So being a former theatre major, I exited, stage left. It wasn’t easy to find a job back then and I got many rejections. But after a while I am not sure why, I decided to circumvent the HR departments and contact CEOs directly. One CEO called me in for a meeting. And after our meeting, he told one of his VPs to hire me.

My new boss, Dr Watson hired me reluctantly on a three-month probation. But after a month, I became a full time employee running media studies and public opinion polls.

At one point during my performance review, Dr Watson told me: “it’s not you but there’s a cultural issue with you. You’re a bit too aggressive.” I asked whether my insights were helpful for the business. And he  told me yes, but that I needed to tone down who I am because of the need to fit into the culture.

You can imagine that I left his office steaming. And wondering, if I was a different gender would I have received a pat on the back or ‘atta boy’?

Questioning Authority

A few days later I walked into Dr Watson’s office and asked him if he had a few minutes. I told him that I took his feedback to heart and found a course that may help address his feedback. I laid the brochure on his desk for an expensive workshop on How to be A More Assertive Woman in the Workplace. At which point, he aggressively threw me out of his office. None of this was ever mentioned again.

A few years later, I left to start a for-profit company within a non-profit. I was 27 years old and I loved creating. But not the politics that always needed to be navigated; mostly because of breakdowns in communication.

I loved the challenges, which I saw as opportunities. And when I was running the national public opinion polls for the national newspaper, my “assertiveness” helped a great deal as I had to approve the articles written by reporters much older and seasoned than me.

Luckily, I started to accept myself and my need to be deep. Often, I felt misunderstood but at work my focus has always been on creating meaning with people. Doing something that made a difference and creates an impact in our lives.

Rooted in Meaning Making

Ever since my 20s, I don’t know how to be anything other than me. At 15, I was involved in my local theatre where we staged my friends play, called Dolls, on the Majdanek concentration camp war crimes trial. The trials were significant in establishing a legal precedent for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I was also the youngest among a delegation of 18 youth representing my country at the time in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was surprising to be picked since I was very idealist and an activist for peace. I organized a ceremony in Dachau concentration camp while we were there that had us all in tears.  A local newspaper asked me to share the experience. And I wrote about how we can live in greater awareness and not relive our pasts by learning and practicing how to break patterns and cycles of hate and division. 

At sixteen, I got together with friends much older than me to talk about why we are here. Questioning started early on for me as meaning making became a central theme of my life. I learned that being assertive helps us establish boundaries and build healthier relationships.

When we communicate our needs and preferences clearly, we attract healthy people in our lives who respect and respond to them. But like anything, it tales effort and practice.

Trekking into the Unknown by Being Assertive and Confident

The future is asking us to value ourselves. And this takes a willingness to trek into the unknown and experiment. We have an opportunity to unlearn and create healthy lives that support us. This requires us to let go of our wounds in whatever way works for us.

While it can be helpful to acknowledge and process our past experiences, it’s important to recognize that everyone has our own way of doing this. And that telling our stories is not the only path to healing and self-acceptance. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that what works for one person may not work for another and that …

  • When we step out of our comfort zone and explore the unknown, we often learn new things about ourselves and the world around us. This leads to personal growth, expanded perspectives, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.
  • Exploring the unknown with others helps build connections and a sense of community. Sharing the experience of stepping into the unknown, helps us develop stronger bonds and a sense of shared purpose.
  • Being curious often means taking on new adventures. We often feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose. This can lead to greater contentment and spark joy in our lives.

A whole new plain of existence is emerging as we play with new and ancient concepts that become the foundation of a much healthier world.

What I learned from an early age is that while it may be scary to step into the unknown, the benefits are worth it—the heartbreaks and the joy we get to experience. Life is messy and oh so rich.

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