The summer after my freshman year of college I drove from Atlanta to Aspen with a friend of mine. I had never driven cross-country, and have not since, so this is my lone example of the “epic” road trip. Although a good trip, it was not all that epic- no great stories of mishap or tomfoolery. We were on a tight time schedule so there was no sightseeing. There are only two things I remember about the drive: the St. Louis Arch and Kansas.
If you have ever driven east to west across Kansas, you know that there isn’t much to see. Literally. Sitting in the car with the Kansas heat beating through the windows, I was amazed anything could be that flat. I was in awe of how blank the horizon was to my left and right and how the scenery seemed to never change. There wasn’t a hill, a tree, or a shrub for miles. One mile felt like ten.
If you have ever driven east to west across Kansas, you also know that as you approach the state’s western border you see the Rocky Mountains. It is as if they appear from nowhere. Beautiful. Magnificent. Imposing. After hours and hours and miles and miles of barren terrain, you feel energized and motivated to keep going. Those majestic mountains seem to beckon you onward- “You can do this! You made it!” You made it through the desolate flatness.
What you do not realize, though, is that while you are traveling across that seemingly flat landscape you actually are climbing in elevation. When you finally see those grand Rocky Mountains you are several thousand feet higher than when you started your journey. The flatness is deceptive. The barrenness is misleading. Hour by hour, mile by mile you are not just moving forward, but you are moving upward. You are moving out of the desolation and closer to the mountaintop.
The difficult seasons of our lives can be a lot like Kansas. It’s the same ole, some ole. You don’t seem to be making any progress. Nothing is changing except the days of the week and the months of the year. You keep applying for jobs. You keep showing up to a job you hate. You keep going to doctors who have no answers. You keep searching for love and coming up short. You keep putting one foot in front of the other hoping to see some ounce of progress, some evidence that you are closer to the end of this difficult season. It doesn’t feel like anything is changing, and you wonder how much longer.
And then one day, almost as if from nowhere, something changes. Things are different. You get the job. You find out about a new career opportunity. You meet with a doctor that has a new approach. You realize you are lovable and find love in the process. You catch a glimpse of the mountaintop, and you know you’ve made it. You know it may not be smooth sailing from here- there is still more traveling to do- but the barrenness and desolation are behind you. You feel hopeful. You can see the other side.
Sometimes change in our lives is imperceptible to the human heart, yet we are still growing, still healing. Step by step we get to the other side. Sometimes life is a lot like driving across Kansas. Have you ever had a Kansas experience? What did it feel like when you saw your Rockies?
You’re almost there!
Sally grew up in house where everyone was serious and reserved. Sally was very outgoing. She loved to laugh, try new things, have fun, and always had an opinion. Sally was frequently told she was too loud, too silly, too outspoken, and that she made people tired. Eventually, she decided that since everyone around her seemed to be the opposite of her, she must be the one that was wrong. So she started being quieter, more reserved, trying her best not to bring attention to herself or annoy anyone. She became a people pleaser extraordinaire, always going with the flow, and trying to be the type of person she thought others enjoyed being around.
As Sally grew from a child to an adult, she began to feel anxious a lot of the time. She struggled to really know who she was or what she felt, and avoided any in-depth, long term relationships because she feared if anyone spent enough time with her they would not like what they saw. She became not just guarded, but totally in control of what she said, did, and let people see of her.
I think Sally’s story is way too common. Perhaps the details are a little different- maybe you are naturally more reserved, but feel like you have to be super perky and outgoing or people won’t like you- but I would venture to guess that to some degree we all hear ourselves in Sally’s story. Like Sally, we sometimes fear not being enough or being too much, and as a result, we censor and tailor ourselves. We mistakenly think we have to trade authenticity for connection.
When we make this type of trade, we end up seeking connection with others by staying out of true connection. What exactly does this look like in our relationships? It looks like people pleasing, overfunctioning, enabling, talking too much, staying quiet, oversharing, keeping an overscheduled social life, etc. We engage with others but only to the degree that we think is safe. It “looks” like we are sharing and connecting with others, but really we are only exposing parts of ourselves. We let people see and hear what we think they want to see and hear rather than being open and showing our true selves.
So how do we (the Sallys of this world) get out of this cycle? We identify the lies that we have grown to believe over the years and replace them with the truth: we are beautifully, wonderfully, and intentionally created beings. We take small baby steps towards getting to know ourselves and letting others see our silly or pensive or tender sides. We connect with others, not out of fear, but out of wanting to be known and to know another. We believe that real is better than fake and that authenticity and vulnerability are the only way to form true connection. We leap into the outstretched arms of Grace and find peace and acceptance.
Have you ever felt like Sally? How would your life be different if you stopped censoring and tailoring everything you said and did? How did/are you freeing yourself from the roles you play in relationships and learning to engage in true connection by practicing openness, authenticity, and vulnerability?
Long before I was a counselor or teacher or wife or mother, I was a singer. There have been so many years and life experiences since then that it is almost hard to remember that period. What I do remember very clearly, though, is how much I enjoyed my voice lessons. Truth be told, I enjoyed the voice lessons more than I enjoyed performing for it was in the lesson that you really grew as a musician. You dove into the nuances and interpretations of the music, and sometimes just thinking of a phrase differently changed the way you sounded. Mistakes were expected. You grew and learned because of those missed notes and missteps, and the hardest lesson often ended up being the most helpful. In the voice lesson, you experimented with different techniques, making the slightest adjustments here and there. Those slight adjustments sometimes unlocked attributes of your voice that you didn’t even know were there. Very simply, you found your voice in the midst of the lesson.
Gone are the days of vocal studios and voice coaches, and happily, my performances are now for an audience of one, my two-year-old son. Now my days are filled with counseling my clients, speaking, and family life, and my voice lessons occur in the big and small challenges of daily living. I think many of us search for our true voice because, unfortunately, we lost it or it got silenced years ago. Bad relationships, trying to fit in, attempting to be everything to everyone all the time, addiction, abuse, or maybe just the daily grind have the power to make people very quiet.
When we lose our voice, we lose our sense of self. It is easier to tell someone what she wants to hear than take the risk and share our opinion, story, or preference. We second-guess everything and sometimes just wish someone would tell us what to do. Perhaps we feel anxious and we don’t even know why. We wrestle with feeling not good enough, and we live in a pressure cooker of working for love and belonging.
But somehow in the midst of the day-to-day activities and peaks and valleys of our lives, we discover our voice. Perhaps it begins with baby steps- we learn our likes and dislikes. Maybe we take a giant leap and set boundaries in a relationship or start saying yes and no when we truly mean it rather than when we think it fits the situation. We discover who we are and step off the treadmill of self-doubt and criticism. Finding our voice means we believe we are enough and that our worth is not determined by the fullness of our calendars or the number of checks on our to do lists. When we find our voice, we feel settled, peaceful, and content.
Yes, at some point in time, we all lose our way. The path gets clouded with bad choices or life events that are out of our control, but on that path littered with disappointments, difficulties, and challenges, we find markings of grace and learn that no life experience is wasted. The experience becomes a lesson.
We find our voice in the midst of the lesson.
These are the lessons I have learned and am still learning. I hope this blog will be a place where you can share your story and continue to find your voice. These are our voice lessons… lessons in grace, freedom and becoming the real you.