Embracing the Power of Your Voice - A Conversation With Courtney ElmerOct 02, 2023
I tend to lose my voice about once a year.
Between cheerleading, sinus infections and general lack of caring for my health, it was about every 12 weeks, when I was younger.
But having my voice disappear, then reemerge a-la Lauren Bacall 💃 is minor compared to the fact that I allowed my true voice - my perspective, my ideas, my light - to get buried under expectations and fear. Uncovering my voice was just the beginning of my journey.
The power of the voice is an undeniable force that can inspire, motivate, and transform lives. In my latest podcast episode, I had a compelling conversation with Courtney Elmer, the CEO and founder of The EffortLESS Life, in which she shares her compelling journey of reclaiming her voice and overcoming limiting beliefs. Her wake up call came with a Thyroid Cancer diagnosis right after her honeymoon, when the possibility of never being able to speak again hit hard.
This conversation really got me thinking about how often this shows up with my clients. So I figured I’d share my takeaways, some personal reflection.
Losing The Power of Your Voice
What does it look like?
You feel unheard.
We’ve all been here. Well, most of us have. This is the feeling, or distinct impression that it doesn’t matter how often or how loud you say something, no one seems to be listening. There are few things more demoralizing than realizing no one is listening to you. As Courtney shared, many times it’s like you’re having one conversation and they are having another.
“I couldn't tell you what it was, but I remember… the moment where my voice was getting louder and louder and louder because I was trying to be heard, and make my message heard, but (she) my mother was trying to teach me how to be respectful and how you're supposed to talk to people.”
You risk losing the ability to speak up at all.
The longer you stay there, the less likely you are to fix it. You get used to the fact that no one is listening, and everyone else gets used to you not speaking up. But what if, like Courtney, you end up in a situation where you might actually lose your physical voice for good?
“It was so ironic because, for someone who had silenced herself for 20 years, in an instant I was terrified of losing my voice.”
You operate out of fear rather than on purpose.
Have you ever had any of these thoughts?
- “I wish I had the courage to speak up.”
- “I’ll just get shot down or overruled.”
- “What if there’s a backlash?”
- “What if people laugh at me?”
I have, and more. How many times did they come true? I’ll never truly know, because I didn’t speak up. Like Courtney, I spent years in “corporate.” 25 years, to be exact, and I worked hard to become a “team player,” and learn the language, and not rock the boat. It just took so much out of me.
“I went back to corporate because I was afraid. I was so afraid and so I started this little side hustle thing. But I was never fully in and I was, kind of like, one foot in corporate, one foot in my business. It wasn't till a few years later that I'm like all right, I'm all in, I'm all in.”
You’re afraid to share your opinion.
Before you push back on this and blame the culture for potentially canceling you, take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself the real reason you’re afraid to share your opinion. I met my husband in grad school - where I completed ⅔ of a Masters of Divinity (yes, finishing it is on my bucket list). Theology is a passion for me, an avocation if you will. Spending a Saturday morning, hot coffee in hand, discussing thorny theological topics with him is what I call a “relaxing start to my weekend.” He respects me, my opinion and my mind. Yet when I’m in a group of pastors and their wives, I’m never comfortable sharing anything. Comments like “you wouldn’t understand, little lady,” reverberate through my head, and I silence myself.
“In fact, just this morning I was reading a post that a colleague of mine had put out and literally the first line was - if you are not a white male, then in some ways you have likely been told to silence yourself.”
What are the personal ramifications?
You lose your sense of self.
When you spend years carefully crafting how you will fit into the box that’s been offered as your pathway to success, you just might wake up one day wondering who the heck you really are. Trust me, I’ve been there. A life-altering event - a cancer diagnosis - became a catalyst for Courtney’s personal and professional evolution. She used her fear as a driving force, propelling her towards a path of resilience and grit.
“Culturally, we're taught to keep silent, not to speak up, not to express ourselves. ‘You're too much, you're not enough.’ All of those messages… you mentioned a word that carries so much within it, and the word is opinion. So often we give our power away to the opinions of others - I will never forget this.”
You do what others tell you to do rather than...
I love to tell the story of my college career. I started out in pre-nursing. Afterall, we’ll never have enough nurses, so I’ll always have a job. I’m compassionate, smart, and I can handle emergency situations well. But - as honorable as that profession is, I would have hated it. On my feet all day, taking orders from doctors… never mind the fact that when I see someone else in pain, I literally FEEL it myself! What on earth was I thinking? The day I was to begin my first nursing class, I woke up vomiting. Yep, my body was telling me what I should have already known. I was headed down a path that wasn’t mine.
“It was crazy because I was like this is not the business that I want to build, but it's the one that everyone's telling me I should build to be successful. So, therefore, I'm going to follow what they're telling me to do and not do it the way that I believe I need to do it for myself and hopefully have the same success that they're having."
When I became an entrepreneur, I had to figure out what worked for me. What I wanted to do, stand for, embody, represent. This isn’t uncommon for entrepreneurs, but Courtney expresses the truth of it well:
“...my business took a lot of twists and turns. I feel as though the best way to describe this is that those twists and turns were on other people's paths.”
Her story stands as a testament to the transformative power of the voice and its ability to influence our personal and professional lives.
What is the effect on others?
They have no one to follow.
Your voice - your opinions, your ideas, your wisdom - is your bridge to others. No matter how invisible you may feel, someone is watching you. Someone admires you. Someone would value connecting with you, and embracing your thoughts and opinions. It might be that shy coworker, your son, or your younger sister who’s in the middle of a big life decision. The absence of your voice matters.
You shut others down.
My mother was an amazing lady. Talk about strong! But she also suffered the effects of silencing her own voice for most of her life. One day, in the middle of a “discussion” in which I was truly testing my boundaries, she just looked at me and said, “not everybody wants to hear your opinion, Andrea.” I have no recollection of the topic… but that statement shut me down for a very long time. You may not be telling others not to speak up, share their opinion, or be themselves, but they hear it loud and clear. They follow your example.
You share things you don’t intend.
Others only receive what you put out there - whether you want them to or not. This could be that you’re sharing someone else’s message or beliefs, or the beliefs you currently hold about yourself that you don’t want them to know. A curated public image only holds up for so long. You can’t just present a single side of yourself to the world - you aren’t one dimensional. It’s not that they need to see more, but you need them to see more. You need to be seen too.
“Your beliefs also influence the intonation and inflection in your voice. Which also influences how other people receive your voice.”
Reclaiming The Power of Your Voice
What does it look like?
The good news, that you’re never too far gone. But - it's hard work. It might even look like deconstruction and reconstruction work. I found that process to be integral to rediscovering my voice - and the work is still ongoing.
“I would also be lying if I didn't tell you that in that dark season I wanted to quit. I questioned everything. I questioned is this what I'm supposed to be doing? Am I supposed to continue on this path? Should I pivot? Should I stop altogether? Should I do something else? Should I just be a mom for a while and just enjoy this time with my son?”
Tap into your Core Values
Understanding her Core Values gave Courtney the freedom to be herself, and to build a business that celebrates those same principles. Her Core Values drive everything she does in her business.
“One of my all time top core values is Connection, always has been. Took me a while to realize it, but that is the thing that I, as a child, was always seeking and didn't always get. My mom didn't have the availability to give me the connection that I was looking for and the way that I needed it.”
“One of our core messages or pillars that our whole company stands on is this idea of anti-fragility, which simply means to grow through what you go through, to grow through those dark seasons. I stayed the course and now, having reconnected with what I know to be my deeper purpose, it's really put my business in a whole new light, to where now I'm building it for me in alignment with my values, in alignment with what I want for myself and for my family, and not what someone else is telling me I need to or should be doing.”
What do you get for your time and effort?
If you don’t already know, when you suppress who you are, what you think, believe and stand for, you will not be happy. Ever. As Courtney shared, she was angry, resentful and bitter. My best friend recently pointed out where I, too, still have some remnants of that bitterness that comes with trying so hard, and so long, to silence myself and be someone I am not. As I continue to work through it, I find happiness where I didn’t expect to ever find it again. Joy in small, special moments that catch me off guard and fill my cup with gratitude.
You bring meaning and fulfillment to what you do.
More than being happy, I want to feel like what I do matters. Understanding, claiming and living within the power of my voice gives me the satisfaction of knowing I’m on the road to “fulfilling my potential.” Yes, it’s a big, nebulous word, and in reality, our potential is unmeasurable, but I want to know that when I get up each morning, the work I do matters, even if it only matters to me. Courtney shared that she even asks her clients:
"When you’re on your deathbed, what do you want to be remembered for? And if it's not what you're doing right now, maybe it is time to contemplate what it would look like to make a change."
Your unique beauty shines through.
Coming to the realization that you are unique, you are different, can feel isolating at first. But when you realize that your uniqueness is the gift you have to offer the world, it will set you free. Free to be exactly who you were created to be, to do the things you were created to do. You ARE the gift.
“...what it taught me was that when you take full ownership of your voice, you're able to step into the fullest expression of who you're meant to be, because your voice is like a fingerprint.”
We each have limiting assumptions, beliefs and conditioning, but when I asked Courtney what was the most powerful thing she had to overcome to get where she is today, she highlighted a Belief. One that limited her ability to be herself and even to help others.
It was that ”what I have to say is not as important as what someone else has to say. I didn't realize that that was a belief or an assumption that I had made, right, I think it was. It was wired into belief that my voice doesn't matter. If I use my voice, I won't be loved, right, that was the belief, but the assumption was what I have to say is not as important as what someone else has to say, and that drove the bus for a long time.”
How about you?
Have you silenced yourself? Are you struggling to find your voice, or just be heard?
Your voice matters, it holds immense transformative power - for you, and for others.
For more information:
FREE DOWNLOAD: Core Values Discovery Exercise
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