Image by h.koppdelaney / Flickr
(Update: “Finding your voice” is the topic of my next book, Louder Than Words, which will be released in August 2015. To be sure you are notified of the launch, make sure to subscribe to the weekly newsletter.)
Since the early days of the Accidental Creative podcast we’ve closed off with the phrase “cover bands don’t change the world – you need to find your unique voice if you want to thrive.” A cover band is a band that plays other people’s music, and they often fill music venues and make money, but at the end of the night people go home singing the music. Cover bands are often quickly forgotten, but the music lives on.
This doesn’t mean that emulation is always wrong. In fact, emulation is a key part of early growth and development. However, we cannot rely on imitation as a short-cut to success. If we do, our success will be hollow, and without a foundation. In order to add lasting, meaningful value, we must – eventually – find our own voice.
But how do we do that? With the pressures and demands of daily work, it can often be overwhelming simply to deliver on expectations, let alone to try to find some unique way of engaging our day. But it’s often in the midst of our work that we will find the best clues for our deeper, resonant vocation. The sources of both “voice” and “vocation” are close to the Latin word vocare, which means “to call, or invoke”. Our voice is the thing that is being called out of us in the midst of our work. It is the underlying why of our passion, even if we’ve never considered it.
We must actively search for our voice, and clear a path for it to emerge. It is uncovered, not manufactured. We may not even like what we discover at first, but by embracing it we will position ourselves to occupy the unique space for which we’re wired.
Here are a few questions that may help uncover clues to your voice. Set aside some time with a notebook or journal to reflect on each:
What angers you? Every super hero needs a bad guy. Without one, the super hero has nothing to fight against. Are there specific things that evoke a compassionate anger in you? (Key point of differentiation: this is not about road rage, poor service, or leaving the seat up. We’re talking about the systemic things that evoke a desire to intervene in a situation as an act of compassion or to rectify a great wrong.)
What makes you cry? Think about the last several instances that caused you to cry. Movies are fair game too. I’ve noticed that I almost always tear up while watching stories of underdogs who overcome incredible odds. This is a clue to me that my greatest work may somehow involve fighting for those who are oppressed or unheard. (Hence…we call AC “freedom fighters for the creative class.”)
What have you mastered? Are there tasks, skills, or opportunities that you have simply mastered and can do without thinking? These low-friction activities might give you a clue to ways you can continue pursuing your voice. We learn through action, observation, then correction. Start with what you do well, and work your way toward your goal.
What gives you hope? What do you look forward to? What great vision do you have for your future and the future of others? Hope is a powerful motivator, and can give you a clue to the ways in which you may be able to compel others to act.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? We often forget the earliest clues to our voice as we are burdened with the expectations of peers, teachers, parents, and eventually the marketplace. But those early days of wonder – the vast expanses of horizon that hinted at limitless possibility – can give us insight into the deeper seeds of fascination that still reside within us. So…what did/do you want to be when you grow up?
If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do? It astounds me how few people have asked themselves this question, and it astounds me more how few people can arrive at an answer when they do. We believe that a lack of resources is the obstacle to our happiness and fulfillment, but for many of us the limitation has nothing to do with a lack of money or time. The limitation is our fear of falling short of our own self-perception. We point fingers at others because we can’t reconcile our own fear of engagement. We don’t think about limitless possibility because we are afraid of what would happen if we were to get it.
What would blow your mind? (Thanks to my friend Lisa Johnson for this one.) Take about an hour to list 40 things that would blow your mind if they happened. You’ll get to about 15 before you find it difficult. Keep going. List out every thing that would thrill you if it were to happen, including relational things, business things, travel, ambitions, hopes, etc. My wife and I have done this a few times, stretching each time we do. To date, many of the things on our list have actually happened. Some never will. But it’s a great way to identify patterns in your motivation.
What platform do you own? No need to start over. Build from where you are. What platform do you already have for self-expression? What foundation can you build on to begin affecting the kinds of change you’d like to see? Never trust someone who says they want to see the world change, but can’t affect change in their own neighborhood.
What change would you like to see in the world? If you could identify a single delta – a big change that you would like to see before you die – what would it be? What would be different about the world because you lived? Don’t be afraid to think big, but be specific. You may not be the one to lead this change, but you may be able to play a significant role in it. (By the way…think relationships here too. The biggest change you and I have the capacity to make is in the lives of others.)
If you had one day left, how would you spend it? If you knew that you would evaporate at midnight, how would you spend your last day on earth? What questions would you ask? Who would you spend time with? What work would you do? Again, this is an interesting way to begin identifying patterns within your passions, skills, and experiences.
We need you. You are not disposable, and your contribution to the rest of us is not discretionary. Do not abdicate your contribution. If you do, you will spend the final days of your life wishing you’d treated your time here with more purpose. Today, here, now, in this moment, resolve to uncover your voice and to begin acting to affect change in this world. You may be reluctant to accept the role that you can play, but resolve to engage. Die empty.
Thoughts? Observations? Please share below.
Image credit: Photo by h.koppdelaney shared under Creative Commons license.