Sometimes You Just Have to Say Something

Eleni KelakosPeak Performance, Self Help, Women in Leadership

A snippet from my new book out now,
Claim the Stage!

(Note: The following is an excerpt from the preface of my new book, Claim The Stage! I chose to write this book for women like you– and some of you have even helped me write it, by providing answers to two surveys that have given me data to work with and thoughtful perspectives to quote. I thought I’d share this excerpt today as a way of explaining why I haven’t exactly been writing and posting Monday Morning Musings very regularly. Truth is, since the Pandemic began, in between coaching sessions and speaking assignments, I’ve been obsessively working to finish my book. It hasn’t left me with a whole lot of time or energy to write much of anything else, which is why you haven’t heard from me every week (or even every other week)! That said, I’m about ten days away from finishing my rough first draft and sending it to my editor, who will then guide me through any changes that need to be made before it goes to print. My intention is to have Claim the Stage! ready for sale by the second quarter of 2021. Thank you for your advocacy, and your patience. I can’t wait to share my book with you!)

It happened in a clothing store when I was thirteen.

My mother had amassed a pile of awesome back-to-school clothes for me and deposited them at the checkout counter. The young woman at the cash register was sullen and silent as she rang up our order. I watched as she took my mother’s money and shoved the bag of purchases towards her without a word of thanks or even once meeting Ma’s eyes.

My mother, five foot eight and a half in her stocking feet, pulled back her shoulders, leaned forward and snatched the bag with a flourish. Her eyes flashed in a way I knew meant trouble.

“You have given me terrible service,” she said, in a sharp, steely voice that echoed throughout the crowded store. “You didn’t greet me, you didn’t thank me, and you didn’t look at me. But you were perfectly willing to take my money. You were downright rude. If this is how you treat your customers, you have lost my business!”

The woman behind the counter reared back like she’d been slapped. As for me, I thought I would just die—DIE!—of hot-faced, tween embarrassment. My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me with her out the boutique door. As we trudged in silence towards our parked car, she gave me a sidelong glance. “Sometimes,” she said, “you just have to say something. Do you understand what I mean?”

Still engulfed in my fog of humiliation, I gave a noncommittal shrug. Because the truth was, I didn’t understand at all. Why couldn’t my mother have just paid for the clothing, taken the shopping bag and left without making such a fuss in such a public place? I just I didn’t get it.

Ten years passed. Newly graduated from college, I was visiting Los Angeles, contemplating whether to move to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actress. A supposedly well-meaning relative introduced me to a colleague I’ll call Dick, who had high-level contacts in the entertainment industry. Perching uncomfortably on a spindly chair in an airy, plant-filled, Beverly Hills living room, I listened in discomfort as my relative and his very slimy pal regaled me with stories about how they had gamed the entertainment industry to make their “fortunes,” and how many well-connected women they had slept with in order to gain more visibility and clout. I think they thought they were impressing me. Dick, who was old enough to be my father, looked me up a down like I was a choice piece of sirloin, then leaned forward conspiratorially:

“I have lots of contacts in the music and film world who can help you get where you want to go a whole lot faster. You’ve just got to be very friendly to them, if you know what I mean. So, here’s my question: If I put my reputation on the line and introduce you to them, how willing are you going to be to do whatever it takes in the name of growing your career?”

Yeah,” my relative chimed in, “What would you be willing to do?

Both Dick and my relative looked expectantly at me, smiles wide.

With flaming cheeks and a pounding heart, I lifted myself off my chair and I raised myself to my full height of six feet. Squaring my shoulders, I looked down at the two men. “Well, I’ll tell you what I’m not willing to do.” I said, in a growly voice I didn’t know I had, “Unlike you, I’m not willing to randomly sleep with somebody in the hopes of advancing my career. And if that hurts my career, I don’t give a damn. And shame on you for even asking me.”

Their mouths clamped shut, and I sat back down. i was so done with these guys.

And in that moment, I finally got why my mother spoke her piece to that cashier years before: Sometimes you just have to say something. And when you do, danged if it doesn’t feel good.

Sometimes you just have to say something.

Whether it’s delivering a critical sales pitch, expressing your value in a job interview, crushing a keynote speech at an industry event, holding a healthy boundary when you’re in a difficult conversation, or speaking up in a meeting dominated by interrupters, sometimes you just have to say something. Because what you know, what you think, and what you have to say matters. And your voice deserves to be heard.