A couple weeks ago, I wrote my first post for this blog. I stayed up late one night after putting my daughters to bed, sitting so long in the same static position as I typed, that my body ached the next day.
After I finished writing it, I hesitated. I second-guessed. I debated. And, then, I did something kinda scary.
I shared it.
As I began receiving responses and seeing updates of how many individuals had viewed the page, I was surprised by the mix of vulnerability and pride I felt.
It did feel scary. But it also felt really, really, really good.
741 page views. 10 countries. Wow! Now, at least a dozen or so of those probably belong to me. And maybe another dozen to my mother. And there are probably some duplicates in there, as well. And I recognize that in the scope of how many page views a typical HuffPost article receives, 741 is pretty minor.
It still felt kinda awesome.
741 times, individuals thought what was inside the link was worth exploring. It doesn’t mean they agreed with what they read, liked what they read, or even that they finished reading it after they opened the page.
It still felt like an invitation. Here’s what the invitation was saying to me:
Your voice is important. Own it.
When I write, I always begin with the title. Sometimes, I will spend hours just on the title, before actually writing anything else. Having a perfectly crafted title eases some of my writing anxiety and organizes my thoughts. I see it as akin to the sudden need I felt in grad school to clean the baseboards when I had just embarked on a big project or paper. How could I possibly work on my stats assignment when the baseboards were covered with dust!? The irony of this was that the baseboards might end up sparkling while the rest of my apartment remained a cluttered disaster and my sink brimmed with dirty dishes. Clean, dustless baseboard satisfaction. Yes, now, I can start some structural equation modeling.
I first titled this post “Finding My Voice.” In fact, the very first step of my writing process is often opening up a Word document and saving the file with the title. The file has sat empty with the title “Finding My Voice” for the last 11 days. When I finally opened it up again to try to actually fill up the blank, white space of the Word document, I realized why I was having trouble. The title wasn’t accurate.
I realized the title wasn’t accurate because my voice wasn’t something that I had ever lost.
I didn’t need to find it. I needed to own it.
I’ve spent a lot of time developing my voice. 13 years of K12 education. 4 years of college. 7 years of grad school. 239 pages of a dissertation. 7 years of therapy. Gone to numerous clinical and educational trainings, workshops, conferences. Acquired the necessary licensure and certification needed within my field to add the ABC soup after my name. Taught 14 different courses within counseling and psychology at 5 different institutions, online, face-to-face, undergraduate, graduate. Supervised graduate interns in their clinical internships or practica. Counseled children, adolescents, adults, couples, families, groups in school, inpatient, college, hospice, private practice, and support group settings. Presented workshops at the community, state, and national level.
Why am I finding it hard to own my voice?
A peak inside my thoughts:
Is what I have to say important? Unique enough? Aren’t there millions of people out there already saying what I have to say? And if others are already saying it, what do I have to add to the discussion that is valuable enough to expand the conversation? What if I don’t know enough yet about the topic? What if I write about a topic and then I learn something else, something new that radically changes my view on what I wrote, or that invalidates my argument? What if I change my mind? What if I inadvertently insult someone or hurt someone? What if that someone is a person I care about? What if I alienate those I love who may not agree with or understand what I’m writing about or why I’m writing at all? What if I seem like a narcissistic, know-it-all, insensitive, rigid, whiny brat? What if my voice is not enough? What if my voice is too much? What if I share too much? What if I don’t share enough?
What if I am not enough? What if I am too much?
Once I put my voice out there, I can’t continue to control its message or control how others will receive it, respond to it, treat it.
What if, once it’s out there, my voice becomes an it? Susceptible to the dissection and critique of others.
This flavor of thinking has inhabited my mind and, at times, paralyzed me from taking action. From sharing my voice. From owning my voice.
But then I meet a client or student, who hasn’t heard some of the messages I’ve heard. Who isn’t tuned in to the same dialogues I am. Who is still entrenched, perhaps, in a dialogue that is keeping her (or him) stuck on a path that is leading her away from reaching her goals, from accessing a happier, fuller life.
This isn’t meant to sound like what my voice has to offer is some info-commercial, “happier, fuller life” quick-fix or to imply that I, myself, have somehow achieved nirvana-like self-actualization and no longer experience the struggle of bad body thoughts, negative thinking, and self-blame (see italicized thoughts above).
But I have made a choice forward. A contract. A marriage, let’s say. It sure feels like a marriage.
I don’t love my partner in an effortless, drifting, free-flow of feeling. I choose to love him. Every day. And, though he’s a wonderful guy and though I think our relationship is pretty awesome, it’s not always easy. In the same way, I choose to love my body. I decide to love my body. And I choose to work hard at having a healthy relationship with my body and with food. It ain’t easy. It ain’t free-flowing. And it sure isn’t effortless. Like many of the women (and men) I’ve had the sacred privilege of working with, I live in the same world that tells them they need to do more, and do it better, and faster, but while taking up less and less space, whether with their bodies or with their voices.
Owning my voice means owning my space. Occupying the room around me. Filling up that space. It means allowing myself to grow out, instead of in. It means making room for all of me. Including the parts of me that aren’t as polished, complete, or even ready.
I hope to continue evolving. To continue learning new things. To continue to be challenged. To be forced to look at things in a different way, from a different lens. I hope that some of my future writing may contradict earlier writing. I hope I can give myself some grace in the same way that I hope to offer this to the individuals I intend to reach. In the same way, that I hope to offer this grace and acceptance to you.
I hope that you’ll join me on this journey. I hope you’ll share my message if you think it’s worth sharing. And I hope you’ll consider owning more of your own voice.
****A note to potential former or current clients who may find their way to this blog. If you recognize parts of yourself in my writing, I want to assure you that it is neither intentional nor targeted, and that I strive to maintain your confidentiality and privacy.
Beyond my ethical and legal obligations as a counselor, as a fellow traveler who values individuals’ autonomy in sharing their own stories, I strive to not talk specifically or directly about any individual clients, whether former or current. But, I’m also acutely aware of the impact clients have had on me, and the lessons they’ve taught me. The courage I’ve been privileged to witness has left an indelible impact on the fabric of who I am. So if you recognize parts of yourself in my writing, there may be a kernel of truth in an abstract way. How could your courage, strength, and wisdom not seep into the fiber of my being and not change me for the better. For that, I thank you.****