There is a thrill to discovering your voice. “I have a voice! Wow!” “I have something to say!” But, for most of us, it can be quite a journey to get there.
I first discovered my voice when I was 36 years old. To some that might feel like a late bloomer. To others, you might be well past that age and still looking. There’s no shame in that. We each have our unique path.
When I was in college, I was smitten with my classes in national and international politics. I also considered myself a pretty good writer. I decided I could put this all together and make a great journalist. Maybe I would even work in politics.
So, after college, I marched off to Washington, D.C. to enter the world of politics and journalism. I had already gotten my feet wet during college through a couple of internships. But now, I was in the big leagues. I was living in the capital of our country, and working up on Capitol Hill. This is where all the big decisions are made that determine the fate of our country, I told myself. I felt powerful.
Soon enough though, the glossy appeal of politics began to fade on me. I knew too much. I saw too much. The behind-the-scenes behavior was unsavory, and I wanted to run the other way. It felt cut-throat, abrasive, and not an environment suitable for a wide-eyed optimistic do-gooder, like myself.
I decided to abandon the path of political journalism, and dive into journalism from another perspective.
My first day at the National Geographic Society was mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe I was now working at the institution that published the magazines I’d been looking at on my parents bookshelves and admiring since I was a little girl. This renowned magazine with the yellow border that contained pictures from around the world helped me think big and see a world beyond my own. Pinch me. Now I was working here!
I felt powerful again.
As a young, budding journalist, I took every opportunity I could get at National Geographic to build my writing skills and my writing clips. One of these opportunities was becoming a staff writer for the in-house National Geographic Society magazine. One day, the magazine editor approached me about an article I’d written. She wanted me to put more of my voice into the article.
My voice? You want to hear more of my voice?
Then panic ensued. You see, I had been taught as a journalist, I should keep my voice out of the article and just present “the facts” to let the readers decide for themselves how they felt about the story. So, I’d been plodding along doing just that. But now the editor wanted more of my voice in the article.
How did I feel about the subjects of my article? What did I think about the topic I was writing about? What might I want the readers to know about me in relation to the topic?
Uggghhhh … my responses to these questions felt very difficult to write. Every time I tried to add in some of these details to the article, I felt thwarted. My power seemed to drain, and I felt like I didn’t have access to my voice. What was going on here?
I realized in that moment that I was scared to death of revealing my true voice — my feelings and my opinions — to my colleagues and my mentors. What if they don’t like what I have to say? What if they judge me? What if they think I am too judgmental? What if they laugh me out of here?
The article I was writing wasn’t even about a controversial issue. My struggle, however, to find my voice to write it, was excruciating.
That’s when I knew, I really didn’t know my own voice. I had been so focused on achieving “outer world” results — in high school, in college, and now in the workplace — that on the outside I looked like I had it made, but on the inside, I really didn’t even know what I wanted to say.
I knew I had to listen to the quiet voice inside me that was telling me what to do — even though, at the time, I couldn’t put words to it.
Below, I share with you the steps I took to discover my voice. I now share them with my clients with game-changing results. I hope they support and inspire you in your journey to discover your voice.
5 Steps to Discover Your Voice
STEP 1: GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
A comfort zone can be great for awhile to build your confidence and be in the flow, but eventually it can turn into a trap that keeps you playing small. In my case, I was plodding along doing what I was comfortable with in my writing. I was “reporting the facts.” That was easy for me. I didn’t have to get personally involved with my subjects, or have to reveal too much of myself. But this only took me so far. In order to discover my voice and become the writer I dreamt of being, I needed to shake things up. I needed to get out of my comfort zone and get out of my habitual patterns. So, what did I do? I gave my notice at National Geographic, bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia, and embarked on a journey that took me way out of my comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone can be something big or small. It’s about mixing things up to gain a new perspective, and get out of a stale pattern. Is there some small way you could break a daily pattern that might be standing in the way of your growth?
STEP 2: GIVE PRIORITY TO YOUR INNER VOICE
Many of us who are Type A, ambitious, high-achieving people, tend to overlook our inner voice. I certainly did in my early days. Up until I left for Southeast Asia, I had lived a very Type A, over-scheduled, outer-focused life. It was all about achievement for me. I had each moment planned, and my calendar filled to the gills. Never a dull moment. I didn’t allow much space and time to just be. Therefore, I didn’t give my inner voice much time to reveal herself to me. But that eventually caught up to me. First, through the writing struggle. Then through chronic lower back pain. It started as a small, dull ache and then exacerbated into debilitating pain that made it virtually impossible to concentrate, sit for any length of time, and do my job. I was taken to the brink, and I had no other choice but to listen to my inner voice. She was the one that guided me to leave my job at National Geographic and go to Southeast Asia. From a professional standpoint, this seemed like a somewhat crazy decision as I was starting to rise in the ranks at the créme de la créme of publications for high-quality journalism about stories I cared about from around the world. But the message from my inner voice was clear: It’s time to go. Instead of sitting behind a desk, you need to go live these stories. What might your inner voice be trying to tell you?
STEP 3: TRUST YOUR INTUITION
On the plane to Kathmandu, Nepal I made a commitment to myself that I would “live by my intuition” on this trip to see what that was like. I knew my old way of doing things wasn’t working anymore, so why not experiment a bit? Sure enough, my intuition did me right. Every step of the way on my journey, I listened to her, and she led me to where I needed to go next. It started on the first day of my trip when I was walking down the street in Kathmandu. I looked up to see a big sign that said “YOGA.” I heard a voice inside of myself say: That’s why you’re here. The next day, I went to a yoga class led by a Nepalese instructor. This was before the days of yoga studios being on every U.S. street corner. The practice was pretty new to me. Within weeks, other travelers — mostly Americans and Europeans — were asking me to teach them. They had seen me practicing yoga on my hotel rooftop terrace, and told me I looked like I knew what I was doing. That began my path as a yoga teacher, which in turn, was a major step in my journey to discovering my voice, as well as my larger work in the world. Where might your intuition be trying to lead you? Are you willing to experiment and trust her?
STEP 4: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK PLACES
While I was having some majorly fun adventures — trekking in the snowy Himalayas, riding with my best friend on motorbikes from the north to the south of Vietnam, swimming with sea turtles off the coast of Bali, and much, much more — my journey in Southeast Asia was no walk in the park. I had to go to some dark places. There were moments when life tested me. Moments I literally thought I might die. These were all usually initiated by tummy troubles (intenstinal bugs) that took me down for days upon days and to places I’d never been before. Dark, scary places. Down on my knees begging to make it out alive. Some would call these incidents ‘“the dark night of the soul.” While painful and harrowing at the time, I miraculously walked away from each experience lighter, clearer, stronger, more grounded and feeling better than I’d ever felt. I felt more whole. More me. More alive. These experiences led me to contact a deep well of fortitude, strength and power within me, unlike anything I had ever experienced. Years later, I heard it said that the “dark night” helps you let go of trying to be who you’re “supposed to be,” and step more into who you came here to be. There is an intelligence to going deep within. To find your voice, are you willing to allow yourself to touch those dark places?
STEP 5: GET INTO YOUR BODY
A woman’s body is the seat of her power. When you are connected to your body, you can more easily access your intuition, your wisdom and your authentic voice. Your body communicates to you. It is a living, breathing, feeling temple to the Divine Feminine. The part of your body that is particularly important for you to connect with to discover your voice is your womb. Even if you don’t currently have a womb, the energetic imprint is there. I spent 10+ years practicing and teaching yoga before I discovered my voice. It was through my deep connection with my body that I could finally hear the sound of my very own voice. Getting into your body can come through many different practices — as long as it involves feeling into your body. Do you like to dance? Do Tai Chi? Practice yoga? Swim? Walk? Cycle? Receive massage? Breathe? What are the practices that you like to do to get you into your body? Do one of these every day.
NOW … IDENTIFY WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT MOST
What are the injustices that you see happening in the world that get your blood boiling? What is happening in your own life — or has happened — that enrages you? What do you want to see happening instead? What is your utopian vision of how the world could be?
Your answers to these questions are the seed to discovering your voice. Your rage is sacred. It is the cauldron from which your voice emanates. As women, many of us have been told to quiet our voice, sublimate our feelings, hold in our rage. This has done a doozy on us. It has cut us off from our power. Our sacred feminine power that lives within our body — in our hips, in our belly, in our womb, in our heart — it is time to reclaim that power. What do you care about most? What injustice(s) do you want to remedy? What do you want to heal in the world?
If you’d like to go further with this, I invite you to explore my Find Your Voice program, designed for female professionals, entrepreneurs and emerging changemakers. I am currently enrolling new clients.
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. is a women’s leadership coach, strategist, writer and consultant. Her life’s work is devoted to elevating women’s voices. To learn more about using your voice, making an impact, and being a leader of change in this world, visit tabbybiddle.com.