Telling Your Story to Find Your VoiceApr 11, 2022
I’ve interviewed nearly 40 women for my podcast, listening to their stories, pulling out all the early leadership moments they may have never noticed, and one thing that stands out to me, is that many of us end up circling back to who we were as that young, unvarnished leader long, long ago.
What that tells me, or what I conclude… is that who we show up as, in our leadership role, and how we shine in our strengths - that’s our voice.
We, especially women, seem to have access to that voice when we’re young, but somewhere along the line, life has a way of burying, pressing down, turning down the volume… on your voice.
That could be due to any number of reasons, things like…
- Community - what’s promoted or celebrated
- Family - what they already do, think, say, promote, what’s OK and what’s not
- Religion - the systems you’re raised in, the beliefs you espouse
- School - what you study and where you excel
- Friends - who you hang out with and what they support,
And then everything else falls under a general…
- Practicality - what you can afford, what life throws at you
But ultimately, each of these women I’ve interviewed - these Unconventional Leaders - found a way to uncover her voice. Go back and listen, and you’ll hear me point out that what they do today, in their leadership role, is eerily similar to whatever they share as their earliest leadership memory. When I point it out, many are surprised. I’ve received several “OH! I never saw that before!” reactions.
So take heart, my friend - if you feel like you’ve lost your voice or you haven’t yet identified it - as long as you’re willing to grow, your voice will find you again. It will resurface.
Telling your story will help your voice resurface.
Over the last two years, I’ve learned that telling my “story,” all the different pieces of it, has given me a new perspective on my transformation, and caused my voice to emerge.
Allow me to illustrate by telling you a little more.
When I developed Intentional Optimism, started my business, and became a certified Maxwell Leadership Speaker, Trainer and Coach, I knew I needed to get comfortable sharing my vision, mission and story - in short, I needed to use my voice.
I’ve never really been afraid to speak publicly, I can fake it with the BEST of them but unfortunately, though others could see my voice, hear it and celebrate much of it in me and for me, I struggled.
My confidence was low, and was constantly undercut by my own insecurities, past hurts, unreasonable expectations and lack of understanding.
You see, sometimes, your voice is buried by… YOU.
For Christmas 2019, I asked for, and received Kathy Khang's book “Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.” I started it, and immediately put it down. I don’t think I even got through the first chapter! The idea of uncovering my voice literally terrified me. I remember sitting on my couch, fire in the fireplace, highlighter in hand… heart racing.
What does that tell you about how deep, or why my voice was buried?
I’m still not entirely sure what it was about figuring out how I needed to speak up or speak out that had me sweating bullets, but as I reflect (knowing what I know now), I think it had something to do with a misunderstanding of what “raising my voice” actually meant. You know… the “you have to do it like I did,” line of thinking.
Y’all, some of our voices need to march in protest, some are designed to proclaim the gospel from the pulpit and some are perfectly suited to teach a class. Each voice is different. Each message is different.
Unique. Unconventional. I should have seen this coming!
So when I finally decided it was time to pick the book back up in December 2021, I was happy to discover it to be very encouraging and helpful in my personal growth, and consequently, my voice.
Kathy does a brilliant job of laying out some simple truths and principles that you take and implement in your own life and in your own way. She’s truly interested in you finding and raising your own voice, in authentic and heartfelt ways.
While this isn’t a book review, it’s a great read for anyone looking to stand up in their own space (work, home, stage, social media), while remaining true to their values and beliefs.
But - what changed in that two-year span between the white-knuckled, cold sweat, heart racing first attempt and the second - which was truly a calm, open, curious and interested reading?
I started telling my story.
In 1-2 podcast interviews a month, I just began sharing my actual life history. It began with a Podcaster Facebook Group where you can offer interviews and search for guests. Someone asked for a personal weight loss transformation story, and I left a comment.
That was it.
Soon, I found myself telling my “weight loss/gain/gastric bypass” story, my “infertility/adoption” story, my “losing my mother to cancer and developing Intentional Optimism through the grief process” story, and “watching my mother sell herself short as a business woman and not wanting to do that to myself” story.
As I shared, each interviewer asked different questions. Causing me to come at each story from a different angle. Like a sculptor taking off a little here and a little there… until the beautiful image emerges, as if by magic - my voice began to emerge.
Of course, I was also doing my own growth work, building my awareness of who I am, and how I tick.
Learning more about my personality type (DISC = I, Meyers-Briggs INFP, Enneagram 6w7, Clifton Strengths Connectedness), getting coaching and confronting so many of my fears, hurts and misunderstandings.
Listening to friends and colleagues, when they point out things they see in me or my story - like when my friend Jess said “I see one thread through everything you’ve gone through in the last 30 years - perseverance.” I had NEVER thought of myself in those terms. Then another friend pointed out, as I entered a store “I just LOVE to watch you read a room.” WHAT? “Yep,” she said, “you do it every time you walk in, and act accordingly.” Wow… I had no clue.
BUT - those comments helped boost my confidence in areas I didn’t realize I needed it. Remember earlier, when I said my confidence was low, and was constantly being undercut by all the things? I was learning to stop doing that through personal growth.
ALL of this work is allowing MY VOICE to emerge.
As I reflect on my personal experience, and watch the women I interview for this podcast, I see a few strong commonalities that stand out.
Whether or not you will ever be a speaker, podcaster, teacher or trainer, understanding who you are, what your VOICE sounds like, is important.
Whether you use it to speak up or speak out about social injustice and culture changes on a public stage, or in small ways on a daily basis to change the culture of your church, PTA, your team at work, or your family, this is an invaluable piece of self-knowledge we can’t afford to live without.
I’m going to share three FALLACIES most of us think about our STORY or our VOICE, then I’ll tell you the REALITIES instead.
Fallacy #1: My story consists only of a specific piece to illustrate a point.
Maybe this one is totally mine, but even when I ask my interviewees to give me their back story, many stumble. They have developed a specific piece of their story that illustrates a point they want to make, but they aren’t ready to talk about how their childhood relates to the things they’re doing now (which is what I mentioned at the beginning of this article.)
Even THEY haven’t acknowledged the way their own life experience has molded who they are today. I was challenged by one of my first coaches to write out my personal narrative. I have a 10 page document (single spaced, bullet points) that’s nowhere near done, but seeing some of my experiences in my childhood have informed my understanding of who I am today.
Reality #1: Your story is ALL your experience and gives rise to your voice.
I had a conversation THIS morning, with a friend telling me a random story, and I said “wow, is that why you used this technique in your work today?” She looked a little surprised and said “gosh, I never thought about that but it was 20 years ago, so I’ll bet it did influence me!”
My friend, this doesn’t mean you need to share every experience you have ever had… but you DO need to acknowledge the value of it in the development of YOU as a person. Whether it’s childhood triumphs or tragedies, work skills that might not seem transferable or relationships that have taught you more about yourself than you ever really wanted to know - it’s all YOU.
Understanding that, will give you insight most people don’t possess. It’s gold. Don’t leave it sitting in the mine.
Fallacy #2: My story is boring and won’t help anyone.
Insert sound effect here… wah-wah-wah-wahhh…. Seriously. I have YET to meet someone who doesn’t have at least one story that will surprise, delight or inspire me. I LOVE finding out all the interesting little things you’ve done or the amazing learning experiences you’ve had. Like my friend I just mentioned. It was a very interesting story about accidentally acquiring some “interesting” art at an auction (toddlers can be very distracting!)
I’ll be honest, though, I thought this. After all, my life was “just what I’d been through.” It was “just my life,” and who on earth is going to be interested in that? Can you hear it, “what, little ‘ole me?”
Reality #2: Your story is more valuable than you can possibly know.
Give yourself a little credit! Then give yourself permission to believe that what you’ve been through, experienced or learned is something at least ONE other person in the world needs to hear.
I think it was in my second podcast interview that I discovered, just by mentioning that my son was adopted, that my host was also an adoptive parent. That sent us down a whole new path of discussion and connection. It was really quite beautiful.
Many of my colleagues at my last job had no idea I had ever weighed 310 pounds. They only knew me as I look now. But - I had one boss tell me that when she heard I’d lost 185 pounds, she figured anyone who could do that, could do anything. She then hired me into a new, bigger position, because she could see my determination and perseverance in my story. I never TOLD it to her… a colleague shared it when she recommended me for the job.
YOU have all manner of experiences that have the potential to
encourage, inspire, and dare I say influence, others.
Do not sell yourself short here.
Fallacy #3: I have to come up with my story or discover my voice on my own.
Nope. You don’t.
Very few people retreat to a monastery in Nepal and spend a year meditating and discovering their voice. I believe we truly accomplish nothing in a vacuum.
You don’t experience anything in a vacuum, so why would you think you, alone, are the sculptor and the piece of stone?
But, alas, I thought this too.
Reality #3: When you open up and start sharing those stories, others will be curious, ask questions and help you develop your voice.
Let people dig into them. Just like the sculptor, finding the lovely piece of art inside the chunk of stone. When others start digging into your story, getting curious, they help YOU see the intricate details you may have thought mundane. They help pull out the emotions you repressed because it was too traumatic at the time. They allow you to see your skill or experience against a new or different backdrop, or from a bigger picture vantage point.
We grow in response to stimulation.
Plants require water, light, and nutrients in order to grow. They don’t refuse them. Why should you? If you’re truly interested in growing, becoming bigger… if you’re truly dedicated to making big changes in your life, creating your own transformation, then you NEED the “water, light and nutrients” that others can offer. This is not a one person job.
But there’s one more thing -
polishing requires friction.
Even the smoothest buffering tool that makes your nails shine, or a piece of wood or concrete sparkle, employs friction. Smooth stones found in a river bed didn’t break off the boulder all smooth and round. Years of tumbling, water, dirt… all created their smooth and polished exterior. So yes, there will be some polishing friction involved, but how lovely is that marble when the sculptor polishes all the rough edges off that statue and shows the brilliance of the design? Hm?
So while sharing your story might sound scary - it’s the answer. Truly.
How do you start?
- Write out your narrative. You have to start somewhere. Even if, like me, it’s 10 pages of single spaced bullet points, you need to look back at what events have brought you to where you are now. Yes, start with things like “I was born in a tiny town in East Texas, the only baby in the hospital. They even had a special bell on the bassinet that jingled as they pushed it down the hall to my mother’s room, so everyone in the hospital knew that “the baby” was on the move. That hospital is now a government building.” Yes, that actually IS my birth story! See, even THAT is interesting.
- Write down all the things that are important to you. Make a list. Short or long… Causes, topics, ideas, principles. Then look for pieces of your narrative that either highlight those things, or illustrate them. Perhaps one of those bullet points is WHY you feel strongly about that topic. Start making connections, and pair them up. This process will help you understand how you got to where you are right now. Almost like going back and paving the road you traveled - backwards. Knowing and understanding yourself will actually get you so much farther down the road than pretending you are who you are without acknowledging your past. You will end up being the same person, but without the authenticity of someone who knows why they are who they are.
- Start sharing your stories. With your family, your friends, in a blog or social media post, or on a podcast. It’s truly fascinating all the different topics people want to talk about in the podcasting world. As you do, you’ll learn more and more about yourself. You’ll find your opinions popping up when you least expect them to, and when you’re curious as to why - you’ll be rewarded with more and more insight.
Where do you start?
Do you feel like you already know your "voice?" Get moving, my friend. The world is waiting!
Or, do you have challenges speaking up?
Perhaps you don’t have a community or place that you feel comfortable or safe enough to start sharing. Not all of us are just ready to jump on a podcast. I get that. Maybe you don’t have friends or colleagues who are curious or even gentle enough as “sculptors,” and you are looking for that piece.
This is where having a nurturing and vibrant community comes into play. This is one of the reasons I created mine. To offer you a space where you can explore your ideas and options, share your stories and uncover your voice.
Launch from The Beach is a community in which we focus on and live all the tenets of Intentional Optimism as a way to ensure we’re providing each other a particularly favorable environment in which we can all flourish.
So if you need a nurturing, safe place to find welcome, share your stories and benefit from the gentle sculpting and kind polishing of like-minded women - just book a free, 30 min consultation, and we’ll strategize how to start uncovering your voice, and see if Launch from The Beach might be the community for you.
ALL my contact information is in the show notes, and I can’t wait to hear your stories.
Until next time!
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