I think I was 12 years old when I decided to lose something for the first time. Always being a bit heavier as a kid, losing weight was at the top of my list most years. My goals would vary over time. Some years I would vow to quit something, like chewing my nails. Other years, I would go back to pledging my life to the hottest weight-loss trend. Either way, I have spent the last three-plus decades of my life vowing to lose or quit something.
In all those years of losing and quitting, I never stopped to think about what I might want to gain. Now, I find myself wondering what it might be. I’m not sure if it is something I lost or quit using along the way. Maybe I never had it. Maybe it is something that I was always afraid to gain or use.
I’m not sure if I have ever gained my voice. Like so many women, I have spent my entire life taking on the words of others, allowing their feelings, needs and thoughts to become my own—years silencing my inner voice. Those rare moments when I do find my voice, I feel an immense amount of guilt afterward. I speak up for myself and then immediately question if I did the right thing. I spend a lot of time quieting my inner voice and not trusting it, afraid to let it define who I really am.
I have allowed dismissing my voice to become a habit. I have spent years trying to be perfect, and it has not worked out for me. I’m tired of being comfortable, of always choosing the path of least resistance for the sake of avoiding conflict, of always making peace in spite of what my voice tells me.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything right and please everyone. Nothing is ever sufficient. We live our lives in the safe zone because we think that is what we are supposed to do. We refuse to listen to that voice in our head that tells us to be true to ourselves, the one that empowers us to honor who we are.
My journey to gain my own voice has taken on a new meaning.
I have an 8-year-old daughter who is doing the same thing. She silences her voice when others ask a question. Her immediate instinct is to ask, “What do you think? What do you want?”
I watch her hesitate as her mouth forms the words she wants to say and then I see her face turn to doubt. She pulls her words back. She stands quiet, waiting for someone else to speak up.
We spend a lot of time talking about speaking up. I encourage her to use her voice and say what she wants to say with confidence and pride. She hears me talk a lot about being upset with the things that I let happen to me. She listens to the disappointment I feel about myself when I choose not to use my voice.
Girls don’t simply decide not to have a voice. We teach them. It has taken a long time, but I finally realize that I am what I choose to become. My voice is something I need to create. It needs to become a part of who I am.
Sometimes I ask myself why I waited so long to find my voice and believe in my ability to use it. Then I remind myself that I can only travel at the speed I am ready for in life’s journey.
I will get there when I get there.