Honesty

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice: A Beginner's Guide

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The first time I wrote a blog was when my sister and I went on a road trip around the west coast starting back in 2011. It was a great way for our family, friends, and ourselves to keep track of the daily adventures and, more importantly, convey to our mother that we were alive and safe. Cute side moment: she would make her morning coffee and sit down to read our post from the night before before she read her morning newspaper. Mm the best way to start the day. It was fun and it was natural because I have always liked writing and it helped that the subject matter was super easy. It was also easy because a) I was not trying to gain income from its exposure and b) we knew the extent of its exposure: just family and a select group of family friends who knew about the journey.

Fast forward to 2015 when I wrote my first blog post for The Tailored Quill. I did not know how it was supposed to be used or how it could translate into clients or income. Instead I simply knew that I had to have one because everyone else did. If you were ever curious about how impressive I am, know that I wrote ONE WHOLE BLOG POST ------ and that was it for a really long time. I wrote another post a few months later. Yeah, months. That is like 1000 years in Millennial social media chronology.

The second post was more like a cute summary of why I started the business but it did nothing to convey what the reader should do about it. SOLID content marketing. But hey, everyone starts somewhere. So my blog sat stagnant for two years until I felt it in my heart that I had a lot I was ready to say. More powerfully, I knew how I wanted to say it. That is when I sat down last year and made a list of almost 200 topics on which I could write blog posts, most of which could easily be broken down even further into more topics. 

Fast forward / rewind to a couple days ago when a friend told me that last week's post about the two questions you need to ask as the first step toward career satisfaction (which she happened to read while at work) made her realize that she did not in fact hate her job as she thought. She instead disliked certain pieces of it while it otherwise checked off many boxes relating to her goals and interests. She stated "the two questions reminded me why I do what I do and put it in perspective, even though my story has always been that I'm terrible at it and that it is miserable."

 

She went on to articulate what I was thinking: the fact that it is difficult - sometimes impossible - to know what impact I have on people who read my work even if they never become clients or ever get in touch with me after reading it. I can track clicks and engagement on my blog page, but Squarespace cannot yet measure the lingering emotional impact the content has on visitors. And this is a crucial point about entrepreneurship that applies to every other arena of your life: 

Expressing yourself with an authentic voice is always valuable even if you do not know who is listening. 

I did not hear my true authentic voice until six months after I started my company in 2015. I did not find it in high school or college or even in the years of mental health work before I started The Tailored Quill, but it was growing ever so incrementally. I found it on the second day of the Book Swarm in Oakland, CA, where I was hired as a scribe to record and consolidate material from industry experts to craft a book on Narrative in the 21st century with a small team in only two days. The second day was when the team got together and took all of the previous day's material to package it into concise, world-rocking chapter outlines. It was basically ten of us in a big room interrupting each other and debating what should be included where and how to emphasize what. 

Several team members were debating one point ad nauseam and I suddenly burst in to the fray and commandingly offered the perspective that the focus ought to be on the broader scope for the moment and that the point about which they were debating was in fact more appropriate for a different chapter altogether. Even though I was "right" and they relented in order to move on, I personally was like "Oh damn, that's what I sound like??" and my whole life, evolution, development, interests, jobs, thoughts, and goals all passed before my eyes and connected to how I saw myself standing there and speaking in that moment. 

I sat down and thought about that for a solid ten minutes. My brain and its prior skills and knowledge recognized that the group was focusing on the wrong thing and then...here is the magic moment...I CHOSE TO SAY SOMETHING. I chose to speak up right then. Something in me was ready to do that and impelled it. 

I did not know that starting my blog would impact people's lives when I started it in earnest last year, but I was able to feel that same impulse within me that it was time to start speaking up. As opposed to when I "started my blog" in 2015, I knew what I wanted to talk about this time and I knew that I was ready to share. 

Now, believe it or not, this is not a boastful blog post. I am not trying to celebrate myself. Sure, I am reciting my own personal narrative growth but my point is that I am just like you. I spent years frustrated that I was not heard, years wondering how to authentically express myself, and it will forever be a challenge. It is becoming more and more consistent in this blog and in conversations about my work but it is not perfect. It is like yoga. You have to keep practicing it in order to actually stay flexible.

I can, however, consistently recognize the impulse to express something, even if I do not end up expressing it. That is the first step. Feeling the urge to express yourself but not following through causes tension within you and may lead to stress and frustration. I am willing to bet that you feel the same kind of detachment between who you are now and the fully aligned, authentically expressed you.

Example 1: standing up for yourself to a boss?

Example 2: articulating your true value in a job interview?

Example 3: Telling a cute stranger at the bar that they are attractive without sounding rude and creepy?

Need I go on? You can come up with countless other examples. And that is okay. All of it is so normal.

In fact, society promotes the disconnect between your expressive drive and the actual act with cutthroat work cultures and an intense "This is the land of opportunity! Go take it for yourself!...But also be careful! It is super dangerous too and you might not succeed!" ideology.

No one can know when the moment will occur, and that is the way it is. You will never make it to that moment, however, if you recoil and avoid the conversations you want to have or avoid asking the questions you want to ask. You will be stuck shoving the voice into a teeny tiny box deep behind the fire of tension and inauthenticity. 

What I want you to do is breathe and shrug and say "Yep, I do not have my voice yet...AND THAT IS OKAY. Cut yourself a break. Do not get down on yourself because society thinks that you are failing. It took me 26 years to hear my authentic voice for the very first time. That is 9,490 days! 

That is a long time seeking the sound of authenticity.

If you are able to accept the fact that that detachment being present is totally cool and normal, then you open the door to the cavern deep inside you (see my post on Cave Diving) and you will feel the same subtle impulse that I did/do and you will not hesitate to say what you want to say in exactly the way your brain has yearned for you to say it. 

Who knows what you will say, but you will hear it when you say it, and your life will never be the same. 

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, Part 2: BACK TO YOUR ROOTS

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It has been a week but there are still giant snowbanks on the side of the road that test how skinny I can make my SUV on a two lane road. Last week I wrote about how the imminent snow storm was like the zombie apocalypse for which everyone in Massachusetts had to prepare by buying groceries on groceries all day the day before and how tension was high enough to inspire some to fight over certain items on the shelves.

Ugh, fighting over certain items on the shelves. As though Whole Foods does not have other options for food somewhere else in the store that we could stomach for a single day of precipitation. Last week's post was about reflecting on the idea of Need. This week we reflect on where that comes from. 

I was born and raised in Vermont, which means that my childhood was sponsored by The North Face and I was acquainted with sub zero temperatures before I was a single year old. My siblings and I grew up ski racing and, following my retirement at age 13, my party favor was circulation issues in my feet and hands because of the blisteringly cold days on the mountain that froze my toes and fingers. I am not that bitter about it because I realized over time how much more tolerant of the winter I became from such early and frequent exposure. Fast forward to college when I walked around campus in January in a plain old sweatshirt and laughed at the freezing wind like a boss.

I bring this up because I will always be thankful for my frostbitten upbringing. Strangers, coworkers, friends, and family talked to me about the storm last week and all I could do about it was shrug. It was simply another snow storm in my lifetime of snow storms. It is a form of adversity that I tolerate much more confidently than, say, walking in the Sahara desert (I am lightheaded just thinking about it) while someone who lives in a desert climate would not be able to handle a snowflake. The pressure of a snow storm on our immediate environment produces a stress to which people react very differently. I agreed that food would be good to have in my fridge for the snow day, but I was not so emphatic that I needed to fight someone for it in the grocery store. 

I am also not holier than thou. I am just one individual with his own unique journey. The fact that I accept snow storms as they are does not make me special; instead it is how I learned to survive during the winter. Those who fought for food in Whole Foods may not be as accepting of the cold and wet so they project their angst into their food supply. That is fine. That is their journey. But think about last week's post: Where does the need come from? Better yet, where does the angst about a snow storm come from?

If you have lived in Boston for a long time but still get anxious about the snow, what taught you that it would be a stress-provoking situation? Do coworkers talk about snow storms so much that you absorb their anxiety? What were the environmental conditions of your childhood? Maybe you developed a scarcity mentality at some point (do not fret, a lot of people do) and register the first sign of stress as the potential loss of resources. As we count days further from 2017 and closer to when we give up on our New Years resolutions, I challenge you to consider this question:

HOW DOES YOUR PAST AFFECT YOUR CURRENT SENSE OF NEED?

The need that Whole Foods shoppers felt last week does not remain isolated to the grocery store. Our brains are large and powerful but still small and contained in the space of our skulls, so the same brain circuits and power are used in multiple situations to streamline the way we respond to perceived stress or need. Using the same systems enables us to see choices that will benefit our evolution. So think about what your needs are and where they come from. In fact, map it out or make a chart. Here is how:

  1. Use the basic headers of HEALTH, WORK, and RELATIONSHIPS as a starting point and write them however you want on a sheet of paper.
  2. Reflect on the needs you feel in each category (i.e. food to eat, money to have, interpersonal support) and write them down.
  3. Now go deeper - i.e. what kind of foods, why do you need money, what specific kind of interpersonal support?
  4. Write them down
  5. Reflect on where those needs come from - i.e. did someone tell you it was a necessity at some point? If not, how did you internalize the need for, say, a certain amount of money, or a certain type of connection with others in the past?
  6. And now you have a flowchart of your personal needs and nowhere to hide.
  7. Bedazzle it as you see fit.
  8. Frame it on the wall.
  9. Post it to Instagram. 

Like a while back when I wrote about how to "reverse-engineer your stress", this simple activity helps you rewind your stories and figure out why you react to stress the way you do in different situations. It is a fun exploration if you open yourself to the process and maybe, just maybe, it will help you breathe a little easier when someone takes that last veggie sampler at the store that you wanted for your snow day. 

You'll never read this, will you?

Blog - one of the goofiest but most recognizable words in the world. Like a lovechild of "blah" and "fog". Both super exciting. The first recorded mention of the word was in 1997 as part of the word "Weblog" before its separation into the phrase "we blog" allowed it to become a verb in addition to a noun. The term "Weblog" makes a whole lot more sense, let's be real. Now blogs are as ubiquitous as thermostats: random instruments that are secretly necessary in daily life. Blogs often take the form of a lack of form, leaving it up to the writer to craft it the way they want and about whatever they want (SPOILER ALERT: we'll cover this a lot more in a later post).  

Whether you're a quintessential millennial (like me) or a well-informed baby boomer, you very well know how blogs are the rebellious middle child between a tweet and a novel. It has stuff to say and it's ready to argue, but it's going to argue it in 600-1200 words and then turn stubborn, holding fast behind the words once it's published. The younger sibling will comment on it, the older sibling will discuss it on their book tour, but the middle sibling will remain stoic. 

Like the events that punctuate a culture's history, blog posts are the stories that compose the blog's overall narrative. The first time I wrote a blog was in the summer of 2011 when my sister and I took an epic road trip around the west coast for two weeks, documenting how many pastries we ate and how many times her iPod Classic (yup, remember those? The iPods that could store a hundred thousand songs or something?) thought it was a good idea to play Christmas songs on shuffle. We published the blog because we knew the trip would be an adventure and our closest friends and family wanted to be included in that adventure (it was amazing. If you happen to find it in the internet-land, please enjoy).

That's what blogs do: they connect people. Even if you don't read this post - let's be honest, you likely won't; it's the first post - I now get to be stubborn about a topic. And you ought to pay attention, because everything I will talk about actually relates to your life. And yours. And yours. And mine. That's important to understand so I'm glad you read all the way to this point (you did read this, right?).