I was working the front desk at a local yoga studio* the other day when a young woman entered just as class was about to begin. I glimpsed her lingering outside the studio as class started, but I didn't give it a second thought as I helped some other students and prepared to head out for the day.
As I exited the studio area I was surprised to spot her again. This time she was by the main entry. Minding a foot injury I rushed downstairs as she stepped out onto the street.
I needn't have rushed. She was still lingering. She seemed lost, contemplating the world of potential distractions in her iPhone and the abyss of an hour unexpectedly freed.
“You're not going in?” I asked curiously, breathlessly.
She spoke softly, something about interrupting, that she was late.
Ah, yes, my gut instinct was correct.
Why do so many women hesitate to assert what they want and take up space?
This isn’t just women, obviously. It's also some men, and it's also somewhat “midwesty.” Well-intended courtesy spills into discomfort with confrontation or inconveniencing. Women in particular are fluent in "Sorry." I would know, since I used to apologize compulsively (I still do sometimes actually).
I'm not a huge fan of courtesy when it comes from a place of self-questioning. Which for too many women tends to be the case. If courtesy has generous, empowered intent, great. Inconveniencing others because you're absorbed in your own concerns is aggravating and disruptive, as victims of repeat offenders will attest.
The way this young woman slunk away suggested this wasn't the case. Her body language was small and shrinking.
So I invited her to claim more space with the truth as is my tendency. I acknowledged her for not wanting to inconvenience others, but that they could handle themselves if she came in late. That I used to come late sometimes for yoga classes (super true!), and that everyone was there to support their own wellness, just like her.
It must have moved her because she didn't hesitate. She beelined right back into the studio with the most energy and conviction she had shown that day.
I consider myself to have been very lucky that day. Lucky to cross paths with this young, self-questioning woman. Because I have been there, and while I hope I never lose the compassion in my courteousness, unlike my younger self I will always strive to combine it with confidence in my intent and in my place. For the more sensitive and courteous among us, that is strength.
*I got involved with Vision Yoga & Wellness after losing my regular yoga practice temporarily due to a foot injury. The community and yoga connection has been great.