On Finding My Voice

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Hello, friends! Despite my absence from the healthy living blog world, I have been having a fantastic year. I’m feeling comfortable in my own skin and confident in a way I’ve never been. Maybe it has something to do with approaching 30, but recently I decided to stop obsessing over making others happy. I decided to start actually putting myself first. I realized I’ve been living my entire life terrified of what others might think of me. A single awkward interaction at the office would result in hours of obsessive thoughts: “Did I do something wrong? Why did she say that? What should I have done differently? Does she hate me now?”

Then I had an epiphany: I cannot control others’ actions, thoughts or feelings. I can control only my own intentions and my own actions. If I do something wrong and hurt someone, I will apologize. Otherwise, I will no longer worry about what others think of me because it’s highly likely the problem lies with them and not me.

I realize some of you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “Is there any other way to view the world?” But this was an absolutely life-changing revelation to me. I spent 27 years trying to be whatever was missing for other people. I was the bubble of air inside a level, aching to reach an equilibrium. Instead of being open and genuine, I spent most social interactions reading the other person for signs of what they needed me to be.

So how did this happen? How did I flip the switch? A huge component has been my writing group, which I joined almost two years ago. I am so blessed to be part of the Indianapolis chapter of Women Writing for a Change, led by the amazing Mindy Weaver-Flask. I have met some incredible writers/friends in this group. I have grown as both a writer and a woman. And I have found my voice.

WWfaC operates under some fairly strict guidelines in order to preserve the sanctity of the circle. We open the circle with a ritual of lighting and passing the candle, signifying the creation of our sacred space. The stories we tell are protected in that space, and we do not speak of them outside the circle out of respect for the women telling them. We presume goodwill and get comfortable with silence. The silence part has been one of the biggest adjustments for me. Mindy encourages us not to rush in with comforting words when a woman experiences an emotion or criticizes herself. Silence gives us a minute to meet that woman where she is, to really hear her. Sometimes the story being read is so raw and powerful that silence is really the only possible response.

At first, I found it extremely difficult to hold my tongue when a member of the group became emotional. Inside I was screaming, “Wait, wait! It’s okay! I can fix this! I will make it all better!” For the first few classes, I settled on a routine of passing the woman the box of tissues as a gesture of support, when what I really wanted to do was tell her she was being too hard on herself or remind her how far she’s come or emphatically declare she had nothing to worry about. It took me months to realize that rushing in to comfort someone is a way of dismissing him or her. It’s like saying, “Oh, that is ridiculous that you said that/felt that way/thought that. Let’s pretend it never happened!”

Accepting someone’s words with loving silence is one of the most powerful responses you can give. It means you heard her, and are in fact still listening. It means you aren’t going to railroad her words by imposing your own opinion as soon as possible. It’s the ultimate compassion, and it’s genuine to the core.

My discomfort with silence was the key to all my issues with insecurity. As soon as I learned to accept it, I began to speak more honestly and confidently. I gave my feedback to the women in my group with an open, loving heart–not with the overly-eager-to-please veil of insincerity I’d worn for so many years. Gradually, this attitude began to drift into other areas of my life. I found myself relaxing, accepting that who I am is pretty great, and if someone doesn’t get me, that’s just fine. The acceptance I felt from the women in my writing group, most of them 10-20 years old than I yet so similar to me at heart, made its way into my core. I realized that pleasing everyone was a ridiculous and demeaning pursuit, not to mention an impossible one. The only people who mattered were the people who mattered. I began comparing people in my life to my writing sisters, and if they didn’t match up in terms of compassion, empathy, generosity of spirit, unconditional acceptance–then maybe they didn’t really deserve a place in my life. This choosiness–this willingness to say, “You might not like me, and that’s okay!”–it changed everything for me. I let go of that desperate need to make everyone happy, that constant obsession that perhaps I’ve never actually been good enough. And it feels incredible.

I think getting to know yourself is something of a lifelong pursuit, if you’re up to the task. Realizing your own power and worth can be a continuous journey. Some of the most incredible moments in my life have involved only me–moments where I recognized an important milestone in my journey to better know and love myself.

One of these moments happened recently at a writing workshop at the Esalen Institute in Big Bur with Cheryl Strayed and Pam Houston (about which I will be writing a full blog post). Cheryl and Pam told us they would sign books on the last day of the workshop. My good friend Rachel had a birthday coming up, and she had recently read and loved Cheryl’s best-selling memoir, Wild. On Friday morning I stopped by the office to pick up a copy of my favorite of Cheryl’s books, a collection of her Dear Sugar advice columns called Tiny Beautiful Things. “This will be a really thoughtful gift–a personally signed copy of a book!” I thought to myself as I stood in line. Then it hit me: “I just spent a mind-blowing, life-changing week with one of my absolute favorite authors. I have one book in my hands, one chance to obtain a signed copy of this treasured work to forever commemorate this amazing experience, and I am going to have her sign it to someone else?” There was no time to make the trek back to the office to buy another copy. I had to make a decision. And I chose myself.

Tears streamed down my face as I repeated those words: “I choose myself.” It felt like the culmination of that entire life-changing week, but beyond that, I had finally turned a corner in my journey to accept and love myself. I was treating myself like a friend. I was putting myself first. All this work I’ve been doing to find my voice had finally come to fruition. When I got to the front of the line, I was still wiping away tears. I told Cheryl the story of how I had chosen myself. She smiled at me and told me I had absolutely made the right decison.

cheryl note

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8 responses »

  1. I love this, Lauren. A phrase I use often with my friends who are also mothers, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” There’s such wisdom in that. Loved meeting you at Esalen and chatting at meals. The week was like a dream, wasn’t it?

  2. Hi, Lauren,
    Mindy sent me the link to your blog and to the post about how your community of writing sisters has been so important in your unfolding.. Needless to say, it is immensely gratifying to me to feel your strength across the miles in this beautifully-written piece. I am also glad you chose yourself for a change!!! Mary

  3. Very lovely, and I can relate so well – I am in the process of learning how to put myself first and remove that veil of “Like Me Like Me Like Me, I am a Good Person, Can’t You See?” which means unlearning a lifetime of habits, ingrained by culture and internalized to my very roots. It is NOT easy and I take inspiration from your words here.

    Came to this through Mary Pierce Brosmer and Mindy Weaver Flask as well – so happy to be part of the endless circle of writers held by WWFC.

    • Thank you so much, Marisa! It’s a pleasure to meet a new fellow WWfaC sister. I think it’s a long process to just put yourself out there and accept the consequences, so I definitely relate. When I find myself falling back into the people-pleasing mindset, I remind myself that pouring so much energy into others is a quick route to emptying my own tank.

  4. Lauren,
    Yes! You chose yourself! I read your post early this morning and was in awe and humbled simultaneously. Your connection to the writing circle here in Indianapolis has been a gift. This is a beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing. Big love to you dear. Mindy

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