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Finding my voice by choosing silence

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

** I published this post in February 2016. I'm sharing it now because I think it is important to remember that finding our voice means we get to choose when to use it.

In a year committed to finding my voice, this past week I learned about speaking less. I want to speak up in arenas in which I am not typically comfortable. I want to express my views and find the courage to stand up for what I believe. I want to stand up for myself – speaking up for what I want or need. I want to learn to be quiet. What?  That makes no sense.

In the past week, there were three times that I wish I hadn’t spoken – that I had waited until a different time, that I had said things differently, that I had waited to see if I still wanted to say what I said. The first situation would have benefited from delaying the conversation until a later time, when I wasn’t walking along Erwin, with the wind muffling my voice, my time window short due to an impending meeting. The conversation merited a postponement; I wanted to be timely and responsive. I wanted to work through the situation and have it be okay. Stepping back, rethinking, taking a breath, recognizing that a delay, letting the problem sit – all would have fostered a better, more satisfying conversation.

The second conversational mishap was simply my not saying something the way I wish I had. Sometimes my mouth appears to work faster than my brain. Hindsight always allows me to have more eloquent conversations. And sometimes conversations are happening so quickly that I don’t have time to elaborate. These conversations are challenging – one doesn’t have time to ponder the perfect statement. However, in this situation, I am definitely my worst critic. I could have expressed things differently, I could have chosen different words, I could have made stronger points, I could have slowed the conversation; but I didn’t.  In this case, actions will be much louder than words.

The third situation is the one in which waiting would have been the best approach. I was feeling badly about something, and I expressed it. Not once, but twice. And not in a healthy way of talking to the person with whom I had the issue. It was to two others – who, though arguably the appropriate outlet, didn’t need to be involved. Hindsight analysis suggests that I was trying to dissipate my bad feelings to others – not to make them feel badly, but to spread my discomfort around, which would theoretically lessen my discomfort. Not surprisingly, this tactic did not work. In fact, it made my discomfort so much worse and made it last much longer. Had I thought about it and decided I would wait until Monday, I likely would not have said anything. And I would have worked through my own discomfort.

Since this is my year of freedom (I’m not feeling very free right now), I want to learn from these situations, to find the silver lining – the what is good – about them. Mindfulness would help in each situation – in the first one, I would have been aware that my environment was not conducive to a serious conversation. In the second one, I would accept that rapid-fire conversations happen, and I could have slowed down and still been able to speak my view. The third – well, this is the big one. I would have sat with my discomfort for a little while, acknowledging it, and then realizing that it is not fact, it is feeling, I would have processed it. I took an action approach, not a being approach. Shocking. My default is action. Act, create, make, schedule, meet, produce, quick! In fact, I should be acting right now – I have a lot of work to do in two days (yes, it is Monday morning at 6 am, but I have deadlines). But I decided I could be for a little while before I get back to acting.

Maybe ‘being’ is the crux of it all. Being involves awareness of the circumstances  and consciously making a choice – sometimes I will choose finding my voice when I am out of my comfort zone – sometimes I will recognize I will be better served by sitting in the discomfort for a while. Both difficult, both challenging, both empowering, both finding my voice – one is simply silent – both valid.

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