Up until the last few years, I had spent most of my life being fearful of my own thoughts and opinions about life. I lived in fear of challenging the things that I had been taught and how I had been raised. I lived in fear of questioning the demands that others placed on me. I lived in fear of asking myself what motivated me. Bottom line, I didn’t know who I was apart from the people, places, and things that surrounded me.
It never occurred to me that I didn’t know who I was until after an ex-boyfriend and I broke up… Or more accurately put, WHEN OUR BREAKUP ALMOST BROKE ME . I had spent years of my life picturing my future with him, immersed in who I was with him, focused on who I was to him. Our relationship… him… they became my identity… and I didn’t even know it until it all crumbled. Our relationship. Our love. They were what my essence was made of. When it fell apart, so did I.
It took me a long time to shake myself out of that “Breakup funk”. You know what funk I’m talking about! That feeling where nothing tastes, sounds, feels, or looks the same anymore. Life feels overcast with grief. A never ending all encompassing grief! Well it sure did feel like it would never end when I was in the midst of it! It did end though. Eventually. THANKFULLY. However, let me tell you that before it ended, it actually just changed form. It went from grief over the loss of love, to it morphing into grief over the loss of my identity. As uncomfortable as it was to go through, this is actually where the magic started. It finally sank in that I hadn’t yet formed my own thoughts on important life issues. I did however do A LOT of listening! I listened to my friends, I listened to my church, I listened to my family, I listened to the men in my life… all of which are wonderfully beautiful things in and of themselves! Yet here I was, always taking in the messages that other people were telling me, without ever taking the time to find out if they were truly ideals that were right for ME. That’s when I took a deep breath and asked myself the one question I had been ignoring my whole life “What does Andrea have to say about all this?”.
Before I continue, I want to preface my next statements with a little disclaimer: I am by no means saying that taking advice, or listening to other people’s opinions is in any way negative. I am not anti-church/anti-family, etc.. Quite the contrary! I believe that there is wisdom in diversifying your point of view and perspective, and having a foundation to build your identity on. There is just too much wisdom in the world to ever be able to say that you “Know it all”! However I do believe that if you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to discover who you are, what you feel, or what you think, that all of the different voices in the world can cause more harm than good. If we are too little informed, we can become ignorant. If we are over-informed we can because easily distractable, not allowing ourselves to be tethered to anything. Our goal should be to find a balance between the two. Feeling confident in what you know and believe, with the understanding that you don’t know it all. Okay, moving on.
“How did you even begin the process of finding your own voice?” you ask? What I will share with you are summaries of the things I learned through my personal journey. Here are 5 things I’ve discovered that have helped me find my voice:
1. Lonliness can often be misguided discontentment. How many times have some of us felt lonely, decided to go out and surround ourselves with other people, just to end up feeling alone WITH other people? Bars are full of lonely people. You can feel lonely anywhere and with anyone… and feeling that way WITH other people just draws more attention to how lonely you really feel. Distraction doesn’t address why we’re lonely. By refusing to give into the urge to distract myself, I was forced me to confront the reason why I felt so lonely… and the source of the loneliness typically had to with feeling a lack of purpose in life, feeling disconnected from God, feeling inadequate at work, etc.. None of which was going to be solved on a dance floor, while strangers spilled their drinks on me.
2. Listen to that “Something” within you. I’ve said it to myself so many times… “I don’t know, but something tells me not to go there.” Maybe you’ve said once or twice “I don’t know what it is, but something tells me not to trust that person.” Regardless of what it is that it’s pertaining to, it always comes back to that “Something”. People have a lot of different names for it… Intuition, a gut feeling, a hunch, vibes, the Holy Spirit… whichever resonates with you. I believe that no matter what religion, spiritual belief, race, gender, or sexual orientation, there are basic human experiences that we all have in common. That “Something” is one of them. That nudge you feel comes from a place that you don’t understand with your head… that’s because it doesn’t originating from head knowledge. It coming from a source deeper than thought or your 5 senses, but it is still a part of you. Honoring it means you honor yourself. The more you honor yourself, the more self-respect you build, and the more you respect yourself the more you trust that what you have to say matters.
3. Say “No” for a bigger “Yes”. This one was THE HARDEST thing for me to get down! There was a point in my life where I hardly ever said “No” because I wanted to be the person that everyone knew they could rely on. I thrived on hearing “Andrea can do it!” I thought it spoke to other’s trust in my gifts and talents! Here’s the thing though. What I came to realize is that many times people volunteered me or asked me to do things based not on my my abilities, but on my availability. There was a job to do and I constantly made myself available to do it. I was a shoe-in. Though they were thankful for my willingness, what it came down to is that they knew I wouldn’t say “No.” Once I learned this I began taking inventory of everything I was doing and realized that very few things were something I was actually passionate about… or even, dare I say, good at. So I began stepping down from things and saying “No.” This wasn’t easy for me and it ruffled some feathers, but it was time for me to say “No” so that I would have the time and energy for the “Yes” that I truly desired.
4. Don’t be afraid to reinforce your boundaries. In my post titled Trust Your Boundaries I talk about how important it is to know what your personal boundaries are, and to not let others talk you out of them based on if they make them feel comfortable or not. Reinforce your boundaries by living a life that supports them, cultivating relationships with people who respect them, and notifying someone when they have crossed them. Boundaries don’t restrict you. They actually set you free to live life on purpose… instead of out of obligation, fear, or ignorance.
5. Figure it out! Don’t know what you think or feel about certain topics? Read. Meditate. Discuss. Investigate. Pray. Figure. It. Out. Be an active participant in your self-discovery. Do something! Actively seek out your voice. Don’t think that you’ll be watching Netflix one day and magically while eating Cheetos you are going to have this epiphany about what it is you really think about life! You have to want it… and everyone knows that the more we work for something the more valuable it is. If you want to find your voice you have to look for it, cultivate it, trust it, and reinforce it.
What makes you afraid of your own voice? What ideas, stigmas, or habits get in the way of you knowing WHO YOU ARE?
Yours Truly, Andrea