This story begins with a women’s experience, which turns out, is also mine. We are all connected, more than we realize. As you read this post, see if you can also see yourself in her. If not, perhaps your story is still unwritten.
This woman, on the very first day of her corporate job, one where had been given a six-figure salary, the task of overseeing a large department and managing multi-million dollar budgets, found herself hiding in a bathroom stall, crying. It seems the life she had been leading, all she had been working towards – the degrees, the promotions, the awards – came crashing down upon her. In that moment, she had no way of knowing that everything in her life was about to change for the better.
It would be a cool story, had she walked out of that New York high-rise that afternoon, but life isn’t about being cool, and neither is this blog. Change often takes time, and it took many more moments in the bathroom stall for her to find her voice.
How we had met was many years later, when she had asked me to write her a speech on Women Finding Their Voice. In preparation for my writing her speech, she told me her story, and how she had left her corporate job in order to pursue her passion – photographing women who life had beaten down. Women who didn’t look or feel good about themselves. Some were overweight, or fighting their way out of an abusive marriage, others had cancer. Through email, I learned how she had ignited her passion for photography, while also finding a way to make a difference for others. What seemed like an end, that moment in the stall, was actually a beginning. Along with her tears that morning, came a soothing ache of relief, a gift, a door opening. The first step she would take in a series of steps in finding her voice.
Due to unforeseen circumstance, she never did make it to that speech, but perhaps life had orchestrated our meeting just for me – and for you. To open my eyes to the path I was indeed walking in my own life, my own journey in finding my voice. Through her story, I had come to realize that finding my passion in writing, something that would lift me every day, while hoping to make a difference for someone else, began with many of my own moments in a bathroom stall.
The steps she had taken that led her out of that bathroom stall, were ones I too had taken. Today, I share them with you. For sometimes we need to take the road less travelled, and other times, simply trace another’s footsteps in the sand.
As you read through these steps, please keep in mind that in finding our voice, our steps are fluid, as we can often skip or repeat steps along the way, moving forward and backward like a childhood game of hopscotch. Inevitably, whether we walk gracefully or clumsily stumble through these five steps, when we follow our hearts, we will find our voice.
The following five steps are simple, but not necessarily easy:
- Seek out your feelings. Our emotions always tell us the truth – sometimes whispering, often shouting at us. These are our bathroom stall moments. Take time to think about about your work, or your life. Does thinking about your day create feelings of joy or dread? When we begin to take notice of how we feel, we start to see the truth, to hear what is in our heart. When we follow our hearts, we find ourselves not at the end, but at the beginning of our story.
- Release Others’ Expectations. As we peel back the layers of our longings that linger beneath our skin, we often find a voice that is not our own. For many of us, our accomplishments have been driven by others’ expectations of us. Our stories of our higher education, financial success, the success of our children, can stem from a hidden need for approval. Releasing expectations is about not only releasing personal expectations about what we should do, but about what we think the world expects of us. It begins with the question, who am I doing this for and ends with what am I doing for myself? It continues with separating the voices of those we have known, from our own voice. We can meet every definition of the word success, except the one that matter to us. Success goes far beyond degrees, responsibilities and money.
- Find your passion. Unearthing your passion is not easy, but when you find it, it will feel like magic! Someday, you will be at the end of this wonderful life, and what will you find? Did you live your life for you? Did you follow your heart? Close your eyes, and think of something you love to do, that you would do for free. Start there. What makes you happy? As you take your last breath on this earth, what do you want to leave behind, and be proud of? This is the key to finding your passion. You will know you have stumbled upon it, by the excitement you feel, the joyful and peaceful feelings that emerge.
- Become courageous. This can be the most challenging step. Yet, when we reach deep within ourselves, finding the courage and taking a leap of faith with our passion, we are often rewarded. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t adhere to it. Set a goal but be willing to change it. Just begin doing what you love, and the rest will fall into place. Courage takes sacrifice, determination and pushing through adversity. As your courage grows, your passion grows, and this wonderful cycle continues.
- Share your Voice. Once you follow the other four steps, you will need to share your voice with the world. As you walk beyond the threshold of this fear, the life you have always wanted will begin to naturally unfold in front of your eyes. Resist the temptation to run back and hide. While many believe they have a fear of failure, it is often a fear of success. When everything you have been waiting for, that life you only imagined living, begins to take shape in front of your eyes, breath, say thank you. Remind yourself, you are worth it.
The first time I opened up to my voice, when Elephant Journal agreed to publish my article, I felt both disbelief and pride, joy and fear. Within twenty-four hours I had almost 50,000 views. My article had touched a chord about special needs children, and it was because it came from my truth, my voice. Not every article finds that success, but I have come to realize, the ones that I create from honesty and vulnerability, intimacy and truth, find their way more often into others’ hearts and Facebook pages.
I urge you to go out and find your voice. To listen to the gentle whispers of your heart, and follow it. To uncover and release any expectations that are not your own. To uncover your passion, reach for that courage and unleash your voice onto the world.
We can wake up each morning, and go through our days, never finding our voice, knowing the sun will continue to rise and fall. Or we can step out of our comfort zone, follow our hears and leave our mark on this world.
Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is permanently on vacation.