What Is Your Voice?

Finding your voice is crucial in any artistic field. It is what makes you different from anyone else, what helps you stand out in a crowd.

In music, where the term “voice” originated, a singer’s voice is their calling card. You can often identify a song based on just a few notes from a distinctive vocal. It is even possible for a musician to have a distinctive instrumental sound — a musical voice with no actual voice!

Similarly, an author works hard to develop a literary voice. Once it has been discovered, you can often identify an author solely by reading a page of their work. The vocabulary that is used, description, dialogue, cadence, sentence and paragraph length all can help to uniquely identify a writer.

The same thing holds true for other artistic pursuits: drawing, painting, sculpting, acting, etc.

However, when an artist is just starting out, they don’t yet know what makes them stand out from others in their field. How are they different? It is only through repetition that one discovers, or uncovers, their own distinctive perspective.

The idea carries over outside the arts, as well. Each person is different, from their DNA to their experiences. The way that they express themselves, the way that they interact with the world, will be distinctive individually.

Anyone who has gained some experience in an area can have developed their own voice. For example, a veteran computer programmer, may produce code that you can identify (provided you can read code!). A mother with several older children will parent differently from any other mother.

What areas of expertise do you have? Have you developed a singular vision and expression, artistic or otherwise? What is your voice? Are there ways other than practice that you can develop it?

Related questions: How do you define success? What makes you you? How important is the repetition in our lives? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better?

2 thoughts on “What Is Your Voice?”

  1. I’m guessing my signature voice is that of an advocacy cheerleader; although for me to be certain that is true I would need my subjects to confirm that. I’m not looking for accolades. It’s simply true that I would need the people I’ve cheered on to have felt cheered on — not goaded or guilted, not misguided or ill-advised.

    But let’s just presume what I believe is true. My advocacy cheerleader voice comes from a passionate belief that many people see injustice and want change. They hate feeling powerless, an emotion that can cower people into inaction all by itself. But many of those same people feel their desire for change is meaningless if not accompanied by some level of expertise on the injustice they see.

    That’s where my signature voice comes in. I create — or many times co-create — a campaign that serves as a vessel for expertise, action, and belonging. Let me be specific with one example.

    While working for the top-notch low-income housing developer, emergency shelter provider, and advocacy organization, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, an intern and I co-created the “Three Words for Home” campaign. With many other effective homelessness prevention and affordable housing advocacy organizations, we championed an effort to get the Minnesota Legislature and governor to approve $100 million for affordable housing. This, even though the ask in our previously successful campaign yielded $37.5 million — a record win in and of itself.

    Anyhow, this intern and I set up a campaign that while educating congregational communities across the Twin Cities metropolitan area on the issue and campaign, we simply asked people for three words they associated with the importance of the word “home.” “Safety,” “security,” “warmth,” and “love” were amongst the most common words. But people also shared words like “Mr. Snuggles” (a pet cat), “foundation” (a clever double meaning), or “springboard” (I think an excellent way to say that few things are possible without a home).

    The cheerleading part of the campaign was convincing people that their words for home and their showing they cared about the need for affordable housing were the only knowledge they needed to be heard by their legislators and the governor. The advocacy part came in convincing people they needed to share their home address, otherwise we could never provide those words with their legislators. The assembled words then became congregational word clouds for each congregation that participated in the effort. Finally, those word clouds then became individualized postcards delivered to the appropriate legislators as well as the governor.

    This campaign was not exclusively led by me and this intern. We (along with other interns) trained, worked with, and cheered on around 50 congregational leaders from approximately 20 congregations to gather the words, names, and addresses of contributors. By the end of the effort we had involved over 2,200 people (Beacon Citizens). Those 2,200 people got to feel the excitement as we (the whole advocacy community) got exactly what we asked for — $100 million! And so the 50 congregational leaders got to feel the rush from leading this successful effort within their congregation and as a cohort congregational leaders. And the interns I worked with saw how they co-led a campaign that set up hundreds of people to feel powerful.

    My role was to encourage people to step out of their safety zone into a powerful effort of citizen advocacy and community-building. The Three Words for Home campaign is simply one example of others I’ve created — or co-created — to cheer people on in citizen advocacy. Whether it was the Renters Credit Shopping Bag campaign or the Tenants’ Bill of Rights effort (both successful endeavors with HOME Line, an impactful Minnesota tenant advocacy organization) or nearly any other endeavor I’ve played a role in leading, again, I primarily created a vessel for expertise, action, and belonging.

    Wow! Writing this feels so vain. But I do believe cheerleader advocacy is my signature voice. I’d like to thank all the organizations for which I’ve worked for allowing me to experiment and develop this voice over the years.

    Lastly, I think I am a pretty good cheerleader advocate for growing your own food as well as ending the discrimination faced by people struggling with mental illness. I do both of these through serving as a personal and passionate example and sharing with anyone who will listen.

    1. Dear Michael, I have the distinct honor of being the first responder to your comment. I can attest to your cheerleading voice, having worked with you and Beacon as part of the Pax Christi Catholic Community’s justice work. I too, aspire to be a voice for the homeless. On Thursday, I and others from Pax Christi will “walk the talk” by participating in the 34th Annual Minnesota Homeless Walk and Memorial sponsored by Simpson Housing Services. (more info at https://www.simpsonhousing.org/ ) Thanks, Michael, for all your cheerleading and leadership.

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