“I’m really nervous, will you just speak for me?” S questioned as we drove towards the court-house. She had been practicing what she was going to present before the judge for the past ten minutes. I really wanted to do this for her, but I knew that she needed to be her own advocate. However uncomfortable this moment in time was, she had the inner strength to prevail, and I knew that as her mom it was my job encourage her do it. I knew how important and invaluable it would be for her to find her voice in circumstances like this. This would change everything for her. Because years ago when I found my voice it changed my life.
Memories of my past came flooding back to the forefront of my mind. I was the same exact age, working at a law firm as a receptionist. My sister was a paralegal and had somehow pulled a few strings. Before I knew it I was before the head principle of the firm interviewing. He liked the way I looked and thought I would be a good face for the office. So there I was, nineteen years old, injected into the world of big wig’s and pompous arrogant attorney’s.
There were several times when I felt out-of-place and awkward, but somehow I managed to fake my way through it. I was learning the ropes of life while being thrown into the mix of the largest firm in Pocatello. There were seventeen attorney’s at that time and even more women to contend with. Someone important was always walking in the door for depositions or meetings. Not having a college degree, it was easy to feel insignificant and not good enough.
Many times some of the older attorneys were jerks. They would say rude and blunt things to me, never filtering how they felt about any situation. It started wearing on me and it was hard, at such a young age, not to take things personally. One morning in particular I remember Mr. Olsen coming out of the conference room coffee in hand, “You really need to learn how to make coffee young lady. This is the worst cup I’ve ever drank. Why they ever hired someone who can’t make coffee I’ll never know.” As he shook his head.
I looked up at him and froze. I found myself unable to speak. Worst yet wasn’t me who had made the coffee. Instead of responding I felt a huge lump in my throat grow and at any moment I was going to break down and cry. His ranting continued as he walked back into his office area. I could hear him tell his secretary how ridiculous and incompetent I was. I remember how hard it was to answer the phones that morning and how mad I was at myself for not being able to speak up.
Lunch couldn’t have come sooner and I ran to my car to have a good cry. While sitting there my anger increased. Why wasn’t I my own advocate today? What was I thinking? Why was I so scared to speak to him?
As I pondered these questions I was overcome with empowerment. There was absolutely no difference between he and I besides the fact that he had gone to school a little longer. I was just as important as him, just as valuable, and I would never ever let someone degrade me like that again. No matter how hard it was I would be my own advocate from this day forward.
I went back to work feeling much better. My little pep-talk did me good and I was ready to implement action. Later that day when Mr. Olsen walked past my desk towards his office I looked up and said, “Hello Mr. Olsen, do you have a moment?” He grumbled, “What is it?” “I just wanted to let you know that it was not me who made the coffee this morning.” He stopped in his tracks, turned around, and said, “Well who did then?” I knew perfectly well who did, but quickly decided to withhold that information, “I’m uncertain” was all I replied.
“Thanks for letting me know”, he remarked. And that was that. I had found my voice, stuck up for myself, and was heard. The events of that day changed the relationship between Mr. Olsen and I. He respected me and even more importantly, I respected myself. Not long after we began engaging in pleasant conversations.
Today as I watched my beautiful daughter speak to the judge my heart was filled with pride. I knew that this day would change her future, marking her own empowerment and self-respect. Best of all, in the midst of a difficult situation, she found her voice.