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Your voice is the connecting force between your inner and outer world. Your voice takes your inner life and makes it manifest: gives it shape and substance and meaning for others.
Says: Here it is.
Says: Here I am.
It tells a story.
Online, your voice is who you are. Readers take that voice and construct their sense of your identity around it. If you show your inner life and it connects with their inner lives, it creates emotional resonance (what we’re all hungry for), and they will follow you wherever you lead them.
On some level you have to feel entitled to speak: to stake your claim and take up space in the world with your opinions, the contents of your psyche. This is why voice can be a sign of privilege. Often it’s the person in the group with the most status and power who talks the most.
When I was much younger, I was involved with some people who had a man at the head of their clan whom I shall call M. M was from a different generation, a different culture. This is maybe why the others didn’t call him on his (blatant) misogyny, but treated it more like an irritating quirk, like someone who stands too close to you at a party. “Women are like dogs and children,” he was reported to have said, “they should be seen and not heard.” This meant that at certain dinners, he and two other men would monopolize the conversation and treat us women and children as if we didn’t exist.
I would sit for well over an hour, maybe two, bored out of my skull.
One night I interrupted a conversation these three men were having about the demise of America as a world power. I don’t remember the point I was making. I just remember M. smoothly cutting me off: “Now I think what Justine is really trying to say is –”
“No,” I snapped, and he looked at me in surprise. Looked at me for what was possibly the first time that night. “You have no idea what I was going to say and absolutely no right to speak for me.” I said a few more things, the gist of which was that he had no respect for women and I was tired of it.
The table fell silent.
Then one of the younger men laughed and said, “She’s right.”
I learned something valuable that night, something I knew intellectually and had even discussed in post-colonial literature classes in college, but didn’t hit me on a visceral level, didn’t become the kind of knowledge I felt in my body, until that encounter with M.
It was simply this: silence is not a neutral position, whatever your intentions. Silence automatically supports the status quo. When you are a presence that lacks a voice, you create an empty space that another voice – a dominating voice that knows no boundaries – is only too happy to fill.
If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.
A voice is a story.
A story is a powerful thing.
You only have to look at politics. The war between the Republicans and the Democrats is a war between two conflicting stories of America.
Only one can win.
Stories don’t just explain who we are and where we’ve been, they set the course for our future. If our story denies climate crisis, then we’re not going to take action against it. If our story characterizes women as little more than overgrown children, as it used to, then their demand for the vote would seem shocking and laughable.
Change the story, and you change the culture.
This is true on a personal level as well. The past is the past, and it’s true that you can’t change it.
But you can change the way you interpret it.
You can view it through the lens of a different perspective and see things you overlooked before. You can make yourself out to be the victim of circumstance (and thus powerless to change anything). You can make yourself out as the star of your own hero or heroine’s journey, in which case everything that happens to you has a deeper purpose: to force you to change and grow, to become the person you need to be in order to meet your true destiny.
‘Finding your voice’ becomes a kind of code for finding yourself. Voice is what you say and how you say it; the two seamlessly weave together, the dancer and the dance.
Which means it’s not just something you find, but develop and practice.
You find it through paying attention to what attracts you, to what you’re drawn to: the ideas, people, subject matter, and also the medium. Maybe your true voice isn’t a spoken one; maybe its purest form comes through visual art, or sports or dance, or writing, or invention, or math, or multimedia, or music, or fashion. Discovering your medium can be a revelation. It makes possible a conversation that you didn’t even know you could have.
Which is why it’s so important not to quit searching until you find it.
You develop your voice through practice, and also through mastering your tools. When you can use those tools in a way that others can’t, you have a decided advantage. You can also move more deeply into yourself and the world, manifesting your inner life with greater depth and nuance.
Magic happens when you learn a technique so well that it becomes a part of you. You become more of what you are. You push past the boundaries, stop mimicking others and start truly creating yourself: your signature style, your voice.
When you get really good, you can draw other people into your story and make them a part of it.
This is known as creating a movement.
This is why, I think, there are so many people who feel pent-up, restless and yearning inside; they want to create but have the mistaken notion that they are “not creative”. Nobody wants to feel trapped and silent. We all have the innate human drive to express ourselves, to speak, to make meaning from the stuff of our lives.
The ultimate creative act is to invent (and reinvent) yourself.
Own your story, and you own your life. click to tweet
Somewhere out there is your audience. They are waiting for you, and always have been.