Finding Your Voice

We are all born wildly creative. The trouble is, as we get older, we stop being ourselves and we become more of what the world conditions us to be, so we can fit in a box in every which way. We end up becoming cogs in a machine to the benefit of society, but to our detriment. As children, we become experts at repeating verbatim what we learn from our peers without thinking for ourselves. We take that as gospel without questioning it. This reminds me of my nephew (13) and niece (16), who have learned from their peers (among other things) that they should have all the answers and when they don’t, something must be wrong with them, never mind that they are afraid of being shunned by their peers, but I digress.

See, here’s the thing. We don’t even know who we are anymore. We try to please others at the cost of our true selves, hoping that doing so will get us somewhere. We are afraid of being ourselves because others will see us as a fraud, so we practice being other people. We live our lives based solely on others’ expectations of how we ought to be and what we ought to do. In other words, we end up becoming a square peg in a round hole. Although it seems forced at the outset, we ignore our true selves and get used to them quickly. It’s a miracle for those of us who are able to survive adulthood creatively.

Then there are those (like myself) who retain their creativity in adulthood because we feel a certain friction in our lives between who we are and who we ought to be, as deemed by society. We find it difficult to shake off that feeling, which despite seeming uneasy and inconvenient turns out to be a good thing (for those who recognize it). It turns out the obstacle is the way after all. It’s when we start asking questions of ourselves and we try to seek answers. Those of us who are lucky may get to this point sooner or later. The unlucky ones may never get to it.

There is no other way to be truly authentic other than to be ourselves. We need to unlearn what we have learned thus far, so we can get back to our true selves. It’s not going to be easy, but it sure is worth it. One of the ways we learn about ourselves is through a creative exploration of our work. The work we do is a gift we give to ourselves and to others. It’s how we express (and bring) our whole selves and find true meaning and fulfillment in life. It’s how we live a life in service of others.

We all have a voice inside of us, which we need to unearth (more on that later). It’s only when we develop that voice, can we tell the story we want to tell. The work we do is simply a means of telling our stories, be it through graphic design, writing, law, or what have you. We are all artists in the truest sense of the word. As artists, we are inherently wired to make things every day with our hands (and ship them) in order to make ourselves useful to others. It’s how we make change happen in our corner of the world. We need the courage to tell our stories without inhibiting ourselves and the world is better for it. Creative warrior, James Victore argues it is only through finding your voice, your fears, and your passion—and expressing them—that you can make great work. Developing our voice is the means to telling those stories. We need to get out of our own way, so we can tell those stories, and find others who believe what we believe.

Ironically enough, we don’t ever find our voice. It finds us and we develop it over time. We already have a voice that we need to discover. You see, our tastes/choices in life aren’t random. There is a reason we are attracted to some things and repelled by others. It’s the same reason we don’t get along with everyone we meet and that’s okay (necessary even). That means we stand up for something. We get along with those who believe what we believe. This isn’t about right or wrong. We are all different and any efforts to fully reconcile ourselves with others will be futile. This isn’t to say we don’t talk to people who are different than us, but expecting them to agree with everything we say is a pointless pursuit, and besides, it’s not the point. We have more in common than we are different, but I digress again.

I’ve found one of the best ways to develop your voice is to start a weblog. Write about what interests and inspires you. What do you stand up for? What do you believe in? I wrote earlier:

Having a home on the web is a great avenue to talk about things you care about (and we all care about something), share those ideas, and to connect with others who care about the same things. It helps you find and develop your own voice, which doesn’t have to be the loudest — it just needs to be authentic. This is what makes you unique.

For some, this could be through writing, for others it could be through audio or video. While the medium might differ, the principle stays the same, which is we show up and do the work every day. It’s how we become a pro. One of the best decisions I ever made was to block a couple of hours in the morning for doing creative work. It was an excuse I gave myself to learn about being my best so I could live to my potential (and then some). Over time, I learned it was one of the best ways to live my Why, which was to live in service of others. Specifically, it was to inspire people to be their best selves, so each of us may truly live a life that matters. It’s one of the ways I’m building my legacy one day at a time (and so can you).

Of course, the quality of what you create will largely depend on the quality of your inputs. That requires exposure to a wide variety of art in the world. By “art”, I mean what we make to bring about change in our culture. Over time, we will find we are attracted to some things and feel neutral or repelled by others. While we need to keep paying heed to the former, the latter will inform our choices as much as the former if not more so.

We are fans of others’ work because their creative voice resonates with us in terms of who we are. While it’s great to get inspired, we should remember the end goal in mind, which is, as American author Ursula K. Le Guin reminds us:

When imitating it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.

We have become quite adept at being other people because we are afraid of who we are. We try to make work that makes other people happy and not work that makes us happy. But, if you can figure out how to make work that makes you happy, it will make others happy. This sounds crazy, but the idea for you is to be you. Finding your voice is about being you and being comfortable with who you are and with being in your own skin. We need to trust ourselves and take ownership of who we are without being apologetic. Besides, the goal isn’t to be different from others but to be ourselves.

Let’s stay open-minded and put our hearts in everything we do. Finding and developing our voice will go a long way towards helping us form a point of view and ensuring we bring our unique authentic self forward, so we can make a change in our corner of the world through our art. By doing so, we will able to express ourselves fully in all aspects of our lives, be it with ourselves, the work we do, or the relationships we have.

Here’s the thing — we all have a burning desire to do something great in our lives. The question is if we are going to live up to our potential. Some of us need to rekindle that fire by getting in touch with it.

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