I always thought that my voice would have a different sound. I thought that finding my voice would feel as though I have this new thing inside of me that is speaking and writing. It sounds a little weird and even freaky when I put that in writing, but it’s true. I expected to find something new and different.
I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
When you find your voice, you don’t find some new thing inside of you; instead you find a little more of you. You find a little more freedom to speak, express, and to let yourself be heard. You find that your voice isn’t anywhere other than inside of you or anyone else than who you are.
You’ll read and hear people talk about developing your voice. It’s true: yes, you can develop your voice — how you speak and write — and yes, the more you use it the better you will get at speaking up. But don’t look for or expect your voice to be anyone other than you and don’t look for or expect it to say anything other than what you have to say.
I’m always coming back to this. The most important question to consider when you don’t feel like you’ve found your voice is, what are the stories and who are voices that keep you from speaking? If you don’t feel free to speak — and many of us don’t — there are reasons you feel that way. Those stories need to be told and the lies within them need to be challenged.
You have something to say, and the fact that you don’t feel like you do is reason to grieve.
I struggled with this for years. I first realized it when I was studying music composition in college. My program didn’t address the idea of finding your voice as a composer, at least not intentionally. This was ok with me, because I didn’t know I was searching for it. I just knew I wanted and needed to write music. And so I wrote. And as I wrote and struggled to write, I felt like the things I created were never good enough. I felt like everything sounded better in my head, and I couldn’t get it to sound like that in real life. I wanted each piece to be epic, but many were simple.
Looking back I can see how insecurity clouded my judgement of what was good. I let my expectation and hope for creating big and dramatic music cloud my perception of the music that I actually wrote. My music was simple and had an honest beauty in it. The more I struggled, the more I let it shut me down and the more I believed that the things I was making weren’t good enough.
I was vaguely aware that I hadn’t “found my voice”, and I wanted to find it. But I didn’t know where to look.
I didn’t know that my voice was already in my music.
It was in the pieces that I was writing and trying not to write (in favor of something more dramatic). What I really needed was to listen to myself and hear the goodness in what I wrote rather than call it bad because it wasn’t the other thing that I wanted to create.
Your voice is already speaking. You just may not know it yet. The simplest and most profound definition of your voice is this: you saying something. It sounds like you. It says the things that you think about in the ways that you always say them.
“Finding your voice” is a misleading name for this process.
The real work is is wondering why you don’t like what you already have to say. The real work is letting your voice speak and to let it be good enough. The real work is letting your voice matter more than meeting the needs and expectations of everyone else (whether they are real or perceived).