You are not TOAST; plate of toast and a glass of milk

How to be assertive?

The key to confidently asserting yourself is understanding who you are and what makes you tick.

Hands up if you have ever heard of a milk toast before? Nope? Me neither! Let me give you a bit of context to help you out. 

I was in a shop, minding my own business waiting to go through an impossibly slow checkout. What is it about a checkout queue that makes it one of the absolute best places to see and hear some of the weirdest things huh? It can’t just be my local supermarket. 

Anyway, there I was in line, and there was a middle-aged guy in front of me with what I guessed was his teenage daughter. Now, I missed the first part of the conversation, but I heard him say while rapidly cramming his shopping into a bag “if you keep being a milk toast, you will never get anywhere in life, snap out of it”.

I was totally confused, thinking what in the world is a milk-toast? Had I misheard him? Perhaps it is a club, or some new-fangled name for a teen culture, you know kind of like being an emo or a goth? 

So, I peered around him to get a look at the girl, maybe there was an obvious answer, perhaps how she was dressed would give it away. After a brief inspection I determined that she seemed pretty normal to me, not too dissimilar from my own daughters really.

She was also looking confused, she shuffled her feet, looked at the floor and mumbled quietly “I don’t even know what a milk toast is”, I am sorry to report that, much to my dismay, in reply the father just growled “If you have to ask, then there really is no hope for you” and dismissed her by turning his back and paying for his shopping.

Well, aside from wanting to lob my cucumber and loaf of bread at his head, I was just as baffled as the poor girl was. It is at times like this that I quite like not having an etiquette filter, I am generally better behaved with a pen then I am with people so, I was about to dive into their conversation unannounced and rescue the poor girl by confessing that I also had no idea what a damn milk toast was, and if he was going to use stupid words then the least he could do was back them up with an explanation.

I was desperate to know what it was, I hated not knowing. What if I was a milk toast and just didn’t know it, does that mean there is no hope for me either? Alas, before I could open my mouth and launch my rant at him, he was stalking off with the girl trailing behind and it was my turn to go through the till, the opportunity had sadly passed.

I churned this sequence back over in my head for my entire checkout experience and all the way to the car where I finally got phone signal and could google ‘milk toast’. So it turns out that it is not milk toast at all, apologies for the mis-spelling so far!, it is milquetoast (although pronounced the same) and is a word used to describe someone who is shy, and easily intimidated. 

Okay, so that made a little more sense, but it was still weird, why didn’t he just say that? I was on one hand relieved that, no, I’m not a milquetoast, no one would ever describe me as shy or timid, quite the opposite in fact, but I did really feel sorry for the poor girl.

It was a real shame for her, not that she was naturally inclined to be shy, but that there was no wonder if that is what she has been contending with. What was with that guy, was that supposed to be a pep talk? If so, it had to rank up there as the least inspiring or comforting talk ever, even my “they poo too” pep talk was better than that!

I was left frustrated and angry that the girl was no wiser or clearer on what point he was trying to make, and if she doesn’t understand then how is she supposed to take the advice on board? 

After a drive home it occurred to me that maybe I was too late to help this girl but I was not too late for other girls and boys, lads and lasses, men and women like her, maybe I could use this blog as an opportunity to deliver his message in a more helpful way, with some real advice and take away tips, especially for ‘getting somewhere in life’ as he so nicely put it. 

While I am going to lay it out for you loosely in respect to work (obviously) the messaging really does apply to many different scenarios. First of all, the key to confidently asserting yourself is, quite simply, understanding yourself. 

If you understand yourself you can speak with confidence, safe in the knowledge that you are talking about something only you really know about. It is after all, you, who is going to question or disagree with your own assessment of yourself? No one knows the truth better than you do, so use it.

To start with, ask yourself some simple questions;

If you could be a superhero which would you be? … Just kidding!

  • What makes you, you?
  • What subjects did you like at school? 
  • Are you practical or academic, creative or sporty?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you read, write, sing, play, watch, walk, run? 
  • What skills do you have? Are you good at computers and tech, or perhaps your skills lie in relating to people and understanding them? 
  • What motivates you? Freedom, fame or fortune?
  • Do you prefer the indoor or the outdoors?
  • What are your qualities? Are you a quick learner, a wiz at the pub quiz or perhaps a good problem solver? 

All of these answers start to build a profile of who you are from the perspective of interests and preferences, strengths and weaknesses. They become an insight into you and excellent answers to any interview question, ice breakers when you meet new people and golden nuggets when you are participating in a conversation so really help if you are not an outgoing talkative type of person.

Spend some time looking over your answers, get to really know yourself in ‘summary’ so to speak.

Once you have this completed you are ready to take on the action part. This is the bit that brings motivation, progress and direction. The personal profile you just created helps you to shape your path, set your course and start out with some determination.

Next your task is to set some goals – small ones first and big ones later. Take a look at your answer to the ‘What motivates you’ question, that will provide a good clue to get you started.

Remember a big dream is made up of tiny pieces that create a path for you to walk. Work out where you want to go and then you can find out what those small pieces need to be to help you build your unique path and get there.

If you know where you are going, then you need to start building your knowledge on how to get there. Seek advice – it might not seem like it but there are people out there who want to help, advise and assist you. Talk to and find stories from those who have already done what you want to achieve, how did they do it, what did it take for them to get there?

Prepare for your arrival by knowing your audience: if you have your sights set on something, someone, or somewhere in particular, perhaps your ideal employer, then you need to do your research. Read their profiles, messaging, vision statements. Find testimonials, know their brand and be sure of what they stand for, so you can speak about them and to them with confidence.

Now you know who you are, where you want to be and have a good idea of how you are going to get there the final step is to set things in motion. 

Create a list of actions, things you will do to get to where you want to be. Do you need to get a qualification? Take on temporary work to build your experience? Volunteer in your ideal scenario to build your confidence? Meet new people and practice your public speaking? Get fit? Pass your driving test? It is good to commit to some timeframes on your actions to keep you focused and on-track.

Everything you do, no matter how small has a part to play in your future, so use your time wisely, stand up and be counted, hold your head high with confidence and the assurance that only you really know who you are and where you are going.

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