“Flowers don’t open and close according to who is walking by. They open and show their beauty regardless.”Rebecca Campbell
A recent realization I have had is that I struggle with using my voice or “speaking my truth.” I know I am not alone in this. I believe this is a struggle for many of us – but especially for women.
What does it mean to “find your voice”? I looked up the definition and this is what Merriam Webster says: 1. to begin speaking; to become able to speak (I couldn’t speak for a moment, but then I found my voice); 2. to be able to express oneself as a writer (a young novelist who has found her voice).
That doesn’t quite cover what it means to me. For me, finding my voice has more to do with the ability to openly express who I am and what I believe – through words and actions that resonate with my truth – despite how others may perceive me. I will take that a step further and add that it also involves a sense of dignity, compassion and grace. What I mean when I say this is that I see many people “using their voice” to criticize, belittle and demean people who do not agree with their view of the world. I mostly see this on social media. Too many folks get a big dose of courage when they are behind a keyboard. I believe that truly finding your voice, and the desire to be heard and respected, means listening to and respecting the voice of others.
I think my focus on the struggle to find my voice comes from recent observations of my own interactions with friends, family and strangers on social media. I find that I am overly cautious to “not offend” or “ruffle feathers” when I speak or write. Sometimes I choose not to speak at all because I do not believe that what I have to say will be well received or understood. Choosing not to speak is, many times, a wonderful way to respond to many situations and I am learning that silence is a very powerful tool on the journey to finding my voice. The problem comes when you remain silent despite having something to say, and do so simply to appease someone or to avoid conflict.
I am speaking of those times where you find yourself agreeing with someone just to agree, or perhaps letting someone else speak for you – while knowing that what they say isn’t truly representative of your beliefs. At times I will catch myself in conversation agreeing or even stating opinions that are not aligned with who I am. I am simply saying words to please the person I am talking to. I would view this behavior as odd, but many of my friends and colleagues admit to doing the same in their daily lives.
In my personal life, from a very young age, my voice was not only quieted but was ripped away from me time and again by my parents. It is where I learned to mirror or parrot what other people said in order to survive. If it ever occurred to me to speak up for what I did or did not like, my words were cast aside with a disgusted look, a slap or, if I was lucky, were simply ignored.
It wasn’t until I was a nurse in my 20’s, when you are taught in school to be “the voice of the patient,” that I felt emboldened to speak up about what I believed in. I was not great at this when I first began to use my voice as a patient advocate, but over the years I took classes on crucial conversations and read books on non-violent communication. I learned to temper my words so their was a greater chance people would listen. Still it was confusing because there are so many unspoken rules about when and how to speak up at work. Subtlety was never one of my strong suits – for that matter neither was patience. I was a slow learner when it came to healthy communication due to my lack of exposure when I was a child. At work, it was usually due to the hierarchical leadership structure that creates a tendency of subordinates (and almost all of us are subordinate to someone at work) to agree with people in positions of authority, despite their own beliefs. This is born of protecting one’s job and career growth. I have faced this lesson time and again throughout my work life, and every time I succumbed to simply espousing false agreement with something or someone, it felt like a small piece of me died. Eventually you submit enough times you just walk around feeling all empty and dead inside. I can honestly say that in my experience corporate culture kills individuality and creativity.
So how do we find our voice when the way we are raised or the culture we live and work in does not foster a sense of safety? The start for me, as with most most things lately, is what has become my favorite approach to life: self inquiry. I am asking myself questions like:
- What am I passionate about?
- What am I afraid to speak about?
- Am I worried about what other people will think of me?
- Am I fearful that I will be misunderstood and criticized for my feelings?
- Am I worried that I don’t have enough expertise to speak on a topic?
- Is this something that needs to be said or is silence called for in this situation?
What I have learned since starting to question my limiting beliefs is that it is important for our voices to be heard. It has never been more critical than now to speak up about who you are and what you believe in. Authenticity is key to this. It is also important to speak clearly about your values and beliefs. Do not be afraid to speak the truth of who you are. It is incredibly important to use your voice to set boundaries for yourself. Drawing a line in the sand may feel intimidating, but you will be surprised how empowered you feel. This is true with your spouse, your family, your colleagues and your boss.
I do want to acknowledge how uncomfortable it is when you start using your voice. I created this blog for many reasons, and one of which is putting myself out there for the world to see. In stating my beliefs I am not trying to change anyone or what they believe. I am simply honoring who I am and that I am worthy of sharing my unique voice. We are all worthy.
I cannot lie – it terrifies me to think about being criticized, ostracized or ignored, but I am putting myself out there anyway. It is important that people see who I am, what I stand for and what I believe in. If they they choose to label me, unfriend or unfollow me, then I truly wish them happiness and joy on their journey as our paths diverge. If you find what I say or write interesting but maybe don’t agree with my view, then I look forward to learning about your perspective. I love listening to other perspectives, it is how I grow and I welcome it. If what I say or write resonates with you, then I look forward to supporting you in your journey as a kindred spirit.
I am going to finish this post about using my voice by sharing a quote from someone else. Yes, I see the irony but it it makes me laugh to use a quote right now and perfectly sums up what I am saying…
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”Steve Jobs
I leave you with this…Speak up! Share your beautiful and unique perspective and voice!
Sending you love and light!