A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Your Voice

by Michael Simmons on Apr 18, 2013

Over the past three months, I’ve taken on a new experiment that has changed my life. I’ve been writing daily about some of my deepest truths that I wouldn’t normally share publicly.

I decided to write this post now while I’m still in the beginning of the journey rather than the end because I’ll never be closer to the feeling of beginning than I am right now. Insecurities are what most often stop people in the beginning of any new project, so I hope that my transparency will be helpful in any areas where you’re a beginner or finding your voice …


What It Means to Have a Voice

I’ve asked a number of my successful blogger friends for their advice on the single biggest thing I could do to move the needle as a blogger. Their advice and my personal experience point to the power of finding a voice.

In the words of two blogger friends;

Readers are not seeking random clever ideas and interesting links (there are much better sources for that). They want to follow someone who is advancing a cause/point of view that intrigues, upsets, or excites them.

You get traffic from being unique. If you can write what people want to read, in a way that nobody else is offering, that’s a good recipe for success.

What I now see is a three-step process:

  1. Finding Myself. Understanding what is unique and valuable about my point of view (POV) on the world.
  2. Finding My Voice. Having the courage to authentically and unapologetically share my POV.
  3. Finding My Audience. Writing in a way that resonates with others and solves a challenge they’re experiencing.

Individual reflection is powerful. However, there is something special that subconsciously happens when I share my personal journals with the world.

All of a sudden, I view my own thoughts through a new lens. That new lens shines a light on both my inner genius and my deepest insecurities. With things in plain sight, insecurities arises, but so too does the ability to let go of those insecurities forever. It is hard to see how much we’re muzzling ourselves until we feel the exhilaration that comes from letting go.

Vulnerability feels right and wrong at the same time. The best example I have of this was when I first started being invited to speak while still in college. My first reaction was the excitement and honor of having the opportunity to speak to an audience about my story. However, as the events grew closer, my excitement waned and my dread increased. Starting at about a week out, my days started being plagued with background worrying. My mind would even try to come up with excuses on why I couldn’t speak. Or I secretly hoped that the event would be cancelled. Just like you can’t experience the deep love of another human being without giving yourself completely, you can’t find your voice until you experience vulnerability. In the end, the feeling of vulnerability is one of the indicators that you’re going in the right direction.

Brené Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.

Researcher, Brené Brown, talks about the power of vulnerability during one of the most TED talks ever.


First, Understand The Process

I set a goal for myself to write with courage outside my comfort zone, because the process of personal growth gives me a lot of energy. Setting this goal allowed the emergence of insecurities to feel like progress. If I was feeling insecure, it meant I was achieving my goal!

I vacillate between the extremes of feeling like I am writing from a deep truth that will resonate with others and fear that I am completely disconnected from what others think.

I write from deep personal experiences. So, without trying to, my writing has become an extension of my self-identity. Therefore, it has made me feel vulnerable to other people’s judgements. Even though it’s not logical, no likes & comments doesn’t just feel like the rejection of a distant piece of writing. It feels like a direct blow to me personally even if I know this doesn’t make sense logically.

Different thoughts of insecurity that go through my head are:

People no longer want to hear my voice now that I am posting frequently.

My voice isn’t helpful to people, and I have over-rated it.

I want there to be a market of people who appreciate my perspective, but I fear that there isn’t.

Am I being too intellectual? Am I going too deep? Should I post funny jokes or more light-hearted things so people don’t think I’m too deep? Am I sharing too much?

Fortunately, I understand the process.

  • Being outside of my comfort zone causes illogical, but convincing insecurities to arise.
  • Seeing insecurities from a place of courage allows them to be transcended.
  • Things don’t happen overnight. Letting go of insecurities isn’t just a thought process. I can’t just say, “Insecurities – Be gone! You are no longer welcome.”
  • The best, but also hardest time to let go of them is as they arise. As they arise, our tendency is to go into old thought patterns of feeding them by treating them like they’re reality. Sitting with them, accepting that they’re there without judgment, and appreciating that they’re arising gives one the opportunity to let them go.
  • Success is a process that happens after many failed experiments.
  • I know what it would feel like to stop. Quietness and relief. Most ideas don’t die a loud death of a front page headline or a bankruptcy. They die silently with few people noticing. Going back inside our comfort zone provides relief. Momentary regret of knowing I didn’t follow through would be obscured by the creation of a face-saving excuse to myself and others on why I stopped, and why that was the best choice.
  • The beginning of anything new feels like crawling in a dark room feeling your way around. The first thing you finally touch is likely not the place you want to ultimately go. It is only a clue, a clue which is hard to interpret until you touch more things.

Steven Pressfield, Author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, writes about the inner demons (aka – resistance) that all artists must overcome.


Everyone Else Is Already Taken, So You Might As Well Just Be You

It is very natural to integrate the styles of other writers that you really admire for ideas and inspiration. This can often be really powerful.

However, it can be the exact thing that’s holding you back. You can never be as good as someone else at being them.

We’re all unique, and the critical part of finding our voice is finding where we’re unique.

It is extremely easy to overlook our own uniqueness because it’s often dressed up as a weakness. Or as Derek Sivers of cdbaby fame has said, “Or it’s so obvious to us, and we don’t realize it’s amazing to others.

There are two types of weaknesses:

  • TYPE I: Not being good at something
  • TYPE II; Being really good at something that others label as a weakness

Most people aren’t aware of their strengths because they’re disguised as Type II Weaknesses.

Some are lucky enough to be in an environment growing up that appreciates and reinforces their strength. Most people are in an environment that ignores or puts it down.

The trick to finding our strengths is following its bread crumbs:

  • Areas where we’re different than others
  • Something we do so naturally that it has become invisible
  • Something that gives us energy

We own our strengths when we own who are instead of resisting.

We realize our strengths when we project them to the world and attract a market of people who are served by them.

Lesson Learned The Hard Way: Control the Narrative

When I started writing about my insecurities, several acquaintances reached out to me to see if everything was ok. By not explaining why I was sharing my insecurities, people created their own narrative for the sudden change. In this case, some people assumed that I was going through some sort of breakdown. What I learned via a conversation with Shama Kabani, founder of The Marketing Zen Group, is that I need to create that narrative myself and constantly point back to it. In other words, I needed to explain why I was expressing myself in this new way.

ShamaTV: The Art of Rebranding with Author Dorie Clark

ShamaTV: The Art of Rebranding with Author Dorie Clark


The Hard Part: Walking the Line

As I shared more of myself, I found that it was really hard for me to find the line of ‘ok / not ok’ as I was in new territory. On one side of the line is deeply connecting with people. On the other side is people thinking there is something wrong with you.

While many people give really positive comments, I also feared that many people were completely turned off by my writing and just weren’t telling me.

So, I proactively had conversations with close friends and supporters to ask for their very honest feedback on my writing.

My take-aways on walking the line are:

  • It’s ok to go beyond the line a few times. You can recover. That is part of the process of learning where the line is.
  • Sharing should not happen for sharing’s sake. The ideal is not complete transparency. The ideal is sharing what’s most relevant to the point of the post.
  • Walk very cautiously when what you’re saying could have a negative impact on your business or people close to you who are in your writing.

Iced T on Walking the Line

Iced T on Walking the Line

Finding an Audience

Without looking for it, some major benefits have already arisen from my posting in the form of new business clients, staying on top of mind with more people, and building deeper relationships with people at scale. Many people have started feeling comfortable sharing more deeply with me more quickly, and I deeply appreciate going beyond surface level conversations with people in my network. One of the core things I build my life around is relationships, so I deeply appreciate these benefits.

As I followed the writing habit, more and more people started suggesting I create a blog. I resisted it for a long time, because I knew I wasn’t ready to start focusing on external success metrics. I was too early in finding my voice, and I did  not have enough confidence.

Two weeks ago, I started to focus on writing for an audience rather than just for myself. As I started to shift my focus to external success, new insecurities arose all of a sudden. The big one is, “Why aren’t more people liking, commenting, and sharing my posts?” I can have a great post, but the insecurity arises again when another post doesn’t do well.

Knowing what’s not working is a very hard question to answer at this stage frankly. There are so many variables, and it’s hard to interpret them. Was the reaction from what I posted a result of when I posted it? The title? The frequency of the posting? How do I judge success at such an early stage? Am I actually doing good, or are my expectations too high?

Moving to an external focus based on metrics requires a completely different mindset. It requires using metrics, being detached and constantly experimenting like a scientist. The previous stage required me to think more like an artist.

The trick at this stage is to continue to develop one’s voice as an artist while also bringing in the scientist.

Judging Success

The point we aim to reach when we start something new is, “Houston! We are a go for launch! Everything checks out and we’re ready to put the petal to the metal.”

Unfortunately, the reality of most new things are not unmistakable success. It is ambiguous clues that lead to more clues.

The beginning brings out our biggest insecurities. The rejection or ambiguity of others feels like a rejection of ourselves.

As these insecurities arise, the natural reaction is to stop the pain. Little do we know that moving forward is exactly what we need to do in order to transcend our insecurities and keep experimenting until we find the solution.

Show me a person that is never willing to stop being a beginner of a new experiment, and I’ll show you someone who is bound to have an experiment that will eventually work.

Being Ok Not Being for Everyone

Having a POV

A major challenge to overcome is being ok not being for everyone. My natural inclination is to want to please everyone. I naturally want to ask everyone what their thoughts are and then incorporate their feedback.

This time around, I’ve been consciously biting my tongue. For example, a few people have said that they enjoy my writing, but that they don’t agree with everything I’ve posted. My first inclination was to ask them what they didn’t agree with.

My unconscious assumption was that if people didn’t agree with everything I was saying, they would not read my writing or appreciate my perspective.

Now, instead of trying to be right, I look at my writing as sharing my current thinking, which could in the future be proven wrong.

Unifying Your Networks

When we see people in-person, we natural acclimate to whatever culture we’re in.

When we start sharing publicly online, anybody could read our work from high school classmates, to family friends, work friends, parents, and relatives.

Frankly, it is daunting to share one side of yourself to all the different networks in one’s life, but doing this ultimately gives us the freedom to be ourself.

Faith in a Market

At some level, one has to have faith that by being true to one self there will be a market. The leap of faith is that by deeply connecting with something within ourselves, we can connect to that same feeling, which exists in many, many others. By focusing on expressing our deepest self, we become artists. The focus shifts from finding a market to finding one’s self and having the courage to express that self.Therefore, studying artists can be helpful. However, if you’re looking for a perspective on understanding the size of a market, I recommend Noah Kagan’s guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog, How to Create a Million-Dollar Business This Weekend (Examples: AppSumo, Mint, Chihuahuas).

Interview with Agnes Martin, winner of a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Interview with Agnes Martin, winner of a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Steps to Ease Yourself Into the Process

  • Journal to yourself. I’ve been a journaler for 10+ years. I think this is a natural, no-risk way to start beginning to develop one’s voice.
  • Share with your closest supporters and friends via email. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have a close network of friends who I feel comfortable sharing my inner most thoughts with. Sharing with them has given me a lot of confidence and built closer friendships. I still share with them when there is something I’m feeling that is not appropriate to share publicly.
  • Post on Facebook. I really like Facebook because you get immediate likes and comments from people from the people you’ve built friendships with over the course of your life. A challenge with starting with a blog is that sharing a new voice and getting zero feedback can be extremely confidence damaging. One never really know how many people read our Facebook posts. Regardless, it feels like anybody in our network could be reading it.
  • Transition to your own blog and look for guest posts. This is where I am at. I just launched my blog last week, so I don’t have any special advice on blogging. Neil Patel’s QuickSprout blog has been an extremely helpful resource for getting things setup right. He has been a very successful Internet Marketer for over a decade to several top brands. In his blog, he shares openly and in-depth about his lessons learned. One of his suggestions is guest posting 80% of the time, so I’m starting to explore guest post opportunities. As such, I’m not a columnist for Forbes. My first two columns have done well. They are How To Give Potential Customers What They Want While Still Being True To Yourself and What Startups Need to Understand About The Booming Corporate Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. Each article has been shared hundreds of times via social media.

 

A special thank you to Laura MacMinn for reading this post several times, providing ongoing feedback, and for sharing her personal experiences! Thank you Laura!



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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…


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