“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split wide open.”
Muriel Rukeyser, poet, feminist, political activist
What does it mean to discover and use your voice? What does it look like to tell the truth about your life? How do we live a great story?
Last Sunday, I sat at a well-appointed table in a high-rise apartment with a stunning view of Chicago, to talk about those very questions with an amazing group of women.
I spoke at a meeting of Executive Jane, a women’s advisory group, made up of executive women leaders (director and VP level) who help each other on their journey toward success. The group was founded and is facilitated by my client, executive coach Kathryn Tack. Some of the women aspire to write books or give TED talks. Others just want to develop confidence in knowing how to “market” themselves, as a part of their career development.
I created a talk/workshop titled: “Your Story Matters: Clarify Your Message, Discover Your Voice, Leverage Your Influence” to share with the group.
We had great discussion about what it means not only to tell your story, but to live a better story. I challenged them to examine what kind of story they are living, and what the message of their lives was. Is your story one that’s boring and safe, or one in which you’re willing to take risks that lead to new adventures?
We talked not only about what story we tell (message), but how we tell it (voice). Your voice is not just the audible noise that comes out of your mouth when you speak. Your voice is your personality, your unique way of saying things. Sometimes we do not yet know what our true voice sounds like. We’ve been mimicking others, trying to fit in or not make waves. That sometimes requires a bit of excavating, of daring to discover what we have buried deep within (or what has been buried by any number of forces around us: culture, church, workplace, family). But God gave you passions, gifts and a voice, and whenever we receive a gift like that, it makes sense to use it, right?
When it comes to living a story, your message is not just on a page, but is communicated through the things you do and say, the choices you make. Your voice is what makes your message unique. You may or may not write a book, or a blog, or pursue public speaking opportunities. But all of us influence someone, and the way we do so matters. We all need to have the courage to develop our authentic voice and use it.
You have something to say, I told the women. You’re saying it through your life. Your story matters, so it’s important to really ask yourself: What kind of story are you telling with your life? What do you need to do to develop your voice?
You also have a story to tell that comes out of your life wisdom. The thing you see that you want to change, the thing you’ve learned in your career or your parenting or your faith or your relationships (even the difficult ones) or whatever. You have hard-earned life wisdom to share.
Sometimes our story is not just about us, but about our decision to speak up for others: to fight injustice, to change the world, to sow love instead of hatred.
Good speakers and writers develop a voice: the thing that makes them recognizable and unique. They let their personality come through in their writing and speaking. But even if you are not a writer or speaker, you can still think about your story, and the “voice” in which you tell it as you live it. Sometimes, discovering your voice means being brave, when you think you can’t.
Developing a natural speaking voice or a writing voice takes practice, I told the group. We tend to think writing should be more flowery than it actually should. We tend to be wordy and meander, instead of just saying what we mean.
That happens in life, too, doesn’t it? We don’t say what we mean because we’re scared. So finding your voice might mean overcoming your fear. It might mean letting go of worrying about making others happy or managing their story, so that you can live your own story.
Sometimes, it’s about simply believing you have the right to speak up, to tell the truth about your life and your experience. It might mean speaking up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves.
Sometimes, finding your voice is about discovering that you care deeply about injustice, and caring so much that you dare to speak up. For women, in particular, finding your voice means raising your hand, asking for what you need, or kindly but firmly stating that you disagree, if you do. Sometimes it begins with even figuring out that you do disagree with the status quo or the “way things have always been.” Almost always, discovering your voice is about telling the truth about your life. Do you have the courage to do that? Who knows what could open up if you do?
If you aspire to write or speak, what message do you want to share?
What steps are you taking to discover and develop your authentic voice?
What is something you care enough about to speak up about it?