I am constantly working on finding my voice. This often comes as a surprise to many people, including close friends. People often look at me in shock when I say this and refer to my poise, articulation, and clarity of thought. I am grateful for that feedback. And those are skills I have learned from many mentors and that I continue to master over time.
But for me, finding my voice is about something juicier. What is happening below the articulation and poise is the interesting, difficult, conflicted and beautiful stuff. Finding my voice in a society that rejects my complex identities, makes me strive higher, faster and harder to reclaim my own voice.
Underneath the surface, I am resolving who I want to be as a woman, as a biracial multi-ethnic Latina, as a daughter of an immigrant mother, as an American—I am always resolving those identities in the world. My resolution of who I am is constantly evolving in a society that largely objectifies and devalues many of my identities in structural and nuanced ways.
Sometimes it’s hard to express my lived experience in words. I have lived a great duality – being in the majority and minority, poverty and wealth, great success and impeccable failure, violence and unconditional love, discrimination and acceptance, betrayal and loyalty. Those experiences often inform my ability to assert my voice. Asserting my voice authentically and openly is a big part of developing and sustaining relationships in my business and personal life and so I am constantly looking to clarify my emotions and feelings underneath that duality.
With time, I realize it is good to wrestle with all these experiences in small and big ways every day with people from different backgrounds. This is especially important during a time when conversations on race, violence, migration, gender and poverty are heightened.
Like any other human being, my lived experience is like a shadow that follows me around, carefully serving up reminders of what American society expects from me in contrast to what I may want to assert as part of my identities. As I examine my emotions around large social issues like gender, race, and others, I try to notice the judgments that come to the surface like, “will they believe me and accept my lived experience as true?”
In response to this question, I have often heard in actions and words, “It’s all in your head. It’s just that one time. She didn’t mean it that way. You’re the exception. He deserved it. She deserved it. Get over it. Pay your dues. I’m colorblind. I like your hair straight. You are not like them. No, where are you really from?” The frequency of these responses can sometimes make us feel unsure if our lived experience is real and have the effect of oppressing our voice.
Safety is also always on my mind. Is it safe for the truest expression of me in any of my identities to come forward? As I clarify my voice, I chip away at the judgements and begin to reframe and affirm my experience. I know it’s not always safe to tell others how we feel. But for me, the risk of remaining silent is greater. There are real consequences to ignoring my identities and life experiences.
Every day, more and more, I come to embrace my own voice more and more. If you want to do the same, here are some lessons that I picked up along the way:
- Acknowledge your lived experience. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are crazy. Your lived experience and story is your own. As women we have a wide range of experiences in life. If we want to honor and respect each other, and serve as authentic leaders, then we must acknowledge our own internal diversity as human beings. My mom used to say, no one can take away your education. Your lived experience is the same- no one can take it away or undermine it unless you give them permission to.
- Don’t let people learn off your back. A colleague of mine recently said this to me as we were discussing how to lead conversations on race and inclusion. As you clarify your voice and identity, you don’t have to be an expert for the whole community. You can share your experience without becoming an expert for others. They also have a journey and if they have curiosity they can go and learn more. This is especially important as you think about the dispersion of your energy. Conversations on personal identity can be emotionally charged. Learn to conserve your energy so you can stay present and authentic to the conversation. We can learn side by side without you carrying the load.
- Be authentic about safety. Sometimes we decide to not disclose something because it feels unsafe. Its okay to let others who are engaging you on your identity that it doesn’t feel safe for you to do that because of your lived experience. You are the master of your voice and decide when to speak up and when to sit on the sidelines and rest. Telling others about the importance of safety in a conversation can help educate others about the complexity of the conversation.
- Be IN the relationship. Anywhere you are in community, you have a responsibility. Whether you are at work, at home or at school, you have agreed to be in some level of relationship with others. While I don’t want you to expose yourself to unsafe situations, I do believe we should honor those commitments. Your lived experience is unique to you. Let’s not expect others to be subject matter experts on us. That’s our job. We need to be in it, if we want to make space for our voice to be heard. Sometimes the relationship is going to get messy. If we have a solid foundation are committed to the relationship, stick with it and come out together on the other side.
- Let others make unintended mistakes. There should be space for mistakes. Mistakes are the greatest teacher of the business world. We should recognize that mistakes are ok, making space for burning questions, thoughts or concerns to be shared out loud, no matter how politically incorrect they might be can release some of the built up aggression we feel on a daily basis. Often times, its not so much what people say to us but rather how they say it. Setting ground rules around these big conversations helps others can go a long way towards having authentic conversations in a safe way.
- You are resilient. I always remind myself that I have lived these multiple identities for a lifetime. I tell others I am resilient and there is very little they can say that will hurt me permanently. I also share that I am responsible for healing and managing my own traumas just like everyone else. By taking responsibility for my trauma, I step into the conversation with greater power and ownership and I become the leader I was meant to be. Now more than ever we need grounded, authentic and powerful voices in these large societal conversations.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s a process. Realize that every day, we are all reclaiming our voices, as quickly and as slowly as we need to. We are also trying to do so without self-judgment and it doesn’t always work. Some days we’ll fail, other days we won’t want to engage and still other times its all we can think about. Being gentle with yourself, will allow for the process to unfold at the speed that your mind, body and spirit can keep up and keep you safe. And that pace and process, my friends, is uniquely yours.
These are just some suggestions. I would love to hear how you are reclaiming your voice?