I’m sure you’ve seen it too. Maybe you’ve walked it like a tightrope walker, swaying back and forth, arms out for balance. Because that is what sometimes feels like it would take to make intentions clear to the world. The two words are often used interchangeably. They’re swapped in and out like they share a meaning. But I would argue that they don’t. Aggressive and assertive might not be as polar as night and day, but maybe as varied as morning and evening. Very different parts of a similar whole.
Since my friend Wendy had the idea for our This Is Bossy movement, and since she, Jessica, Megan, and I started building This is Bossy, I’ve been thinking a lot about strong women. What it means to be strong comes up at the dinner table. I can listen to the tales of Julia’s day, what happened at school, and I see that she’s learning to be strong, learning to stand up for things she knows are right. She’s learning to stand up for herself and what she feels is best, even if in that moment it’s who’s turn it is to play in the art center.
But I want to be very clear, when I think about what I want for my daughter as she grows, I think about her being assertive. I don’t want her to ever think that aggression is okay on the playground. In the classroom. In the boardroom. And here’s why
Aggressive makes me think of my high school basketball games when the cheerleaders chanted “Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive!” Because on the basketball court, aggression can be a good thing. It’s forceful. Exploding with Power. It’s strong arming. Aggression feels very much like it’s on the brink of violence. I think of fingers wagging and faces red with rage.
But to be assertive is different in my mind. It’s all of the strength without the violence. It’s the power with the ability to listen. It is leadership with confidence and strength. It’s confidence in stillness.
Assertiveness can be a beautiful thing. And that’s what I want Julia to learn.
It’s so important to be strong and confident in what you believe in. It’s okay to know what you want and how to work toward those goals. Being focused and assertive in that focus is powerful. And that power is an amazing thing.