darling, it’s time to own it.
My favorite thing in my Facebook feed today was a text image from Madonna’s page:
(I want that on a t-shirt.)
When we talk about finding your voice, we’re talking about your ability to own it. Your voice is not just what you say and how you say it, but who you are.
Which is maybe why we’re so quick to imitate other people’s voices. If it worked for them, so our reasoning goes, then it should work for us, right? We can hide who we are behind who we think we’re supposed to be.
When you own it, you drop the act.
You come out of hiding.
Men and women hide for different reasons. There’s a psychologist named Carol Gilligan who did some fascinating work around voice, and what she concluded was this:
Boys learn to suppress their natural voice around the age of 5, when the first inklings of the be a man message take hold. Presented with the choice between power and warmth, they choose power. They shut down their sense of empathy, as well as their desire and ability to express emotion; they disown their feminine side, since be a man is also code for don’t be a pussy.
Girls learn to suppress their natural voice around the age of 12, when they start to learn what it takes to be a lady. Presented with the choice between power and warmth, they choose warmth. Because saying what they really think and knowing what they really know can lead to hurt feelings, disruption and conflict, they learn to discount the inner voice. They listen to other people instead. They disown their masculine side, since be a lady is also code for don’t be threatening or intimidating, and knowledge and power (since knowledge is power) are both.
To find your voice — to speak up as your true self – cuts against these dictates. No wonder we’re hesitant to do it. Showing passion and emotion – characteristics of any compelling voice – betrays the emotional life that, as a man, you’re not traditionally supposed to have. Say anything important with conviction, and you will rock the boat and piss some people off in a way that no good girl is traditionally supposed to do.
When you speak up, you make yourself vulnerable.
And we’re not a culture that likes to “do” vulnerability. We are a culture of self-help, positive-thinking, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, slap-on-a-smile-and-get-on with-it individualists. (The fact that this isn’t working out so well for us – given how stressed out, addicted, depressed and debt-ridden we are as a people – would seem to be beside the point.)
We’re also a culture that mistakes vulnerability for weakness. But the definition of vulnerability is to open yourself up to the possibility of wounding; it’s about exposing your heart, not having a weak heart.
Vulnerability, then, is a high-risk endeavor. We don’t look on risk-takers as weak. We applaud them. (We also have names for them: like artists, or entrepreneurs.)
Courage, as Brene Brown points out
“is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
When you fucking own it, you own all of who and what you are. The soft parts as well as the hard parts. The darkness as well as the light. You own your vulnerability – instead of letting it own you – and by refusing to disown any part of your story, you stand in strength. Instead of choosing between power and warmth, you combine them; you have the power to sway people through your ability to empathize with them, to unite through shared experience, to connect. (Think Martin Luther King Jr. Think Oprah.)
Or as Madonna also likes to say: