Those Voices…Including Your Own
I wasn’t planning on doing this post so early on. This was something I was going to tackle later-after we had discussed the Whys of doing what we do, and how to prioritize and time manage and all of those things that come along with making Art your Business. But it’s only Wednesday as I type this, and I’ve already had conversations eluding to this topic several times this week. I’ve had other conversations too, of course, but this one has stuck with me for most of this day. I figured it was a sign that it was meant to be discussed now instead of later in this series.
Have you ever had that moment when you are out with your friends or with your family and you catch someone else’s eye and they give you a funny look? We’ve all been there, I think. At least I hope I’m not the only one in this. You immediately say, “What?” And they reply with, “Nothing.” Or “I was just thinking.” And then the day goes on. But you can’t get that look out of your head. You wonder about it. Some of us obsess about it. Here’s a few of the thoughts that could run through your mind…
“Oh my gosh, did I do something to upset them?”
“They said it was nothing. I should just take their word for it.”
“But it was a really funny look. They looked upset? Or sad. Or angry.”
“Oh no! I bet they are mad at me! What could I have done!?”
“Wait… the other day when we were on the phone I teased her about her Mom’s obsessive phone calls. I bet I offended her then.”
“I totally did NOT mean to offend her… I should call her. I HATE when people are upset with me.”
“Should I call her? Am I blowing this out of proportion?”
“Okay, I’ll just talk to her the next time I see her or she calls me. There’s no need to be crazy. She said it was nothing.”
5 minutes later…
“No. I’m just going to call her now and get this over with…”
Proceeds to call.
Anyone else? Been there, done that, right?
I have a wonderful group of girlfriends here in Arizona that use to call that “MSU-ing” (Making Stuff Up). When that situation would arise, and we would inevitably call one another, the one who was NOT being crazy would say, “Don’t MSU. I told you it was nothing. I was actually wondering if the lettuce I just bought was still good for dinner that night….if I had remembered to book our rental car for next week’s trip…if I’d taken Michael’s work shirts to the cleaners…etc.” You get the picture.
And you hang up breathing a huge sigh of relief, and yes-feeling slightly embarrassed because you let those voices in your head get the best of you. Again.
Those voices are powerful things, aren’t they? Words, no matter where they come from, are powerful, change-your-life-and-direction, things. As artists, we typically internalize words in a huge way-whether we admit it or not.
Oh I know…there are some out there that put forth the “I don’t care what others think. I do my thing and you can buy it or not” persona. Sure, I think there is that out there. But I also talk to enough artists from all walks to know that, most of the time, this is not fully the truth. I’m not saying it’s not always the truth. Maybe there is someone out there that truly doesn’t give a rat’s arse what anyone else in this entire world thinks. Or maybe it’s the hard outer shell to try to deflect the feelings that bombard them when criticism (even constructive criticism) head their way. Whatever it is, sure, that’s out there.
But for most of us, the words and voices that head our way affect us one way or the other. And it’s really, REALLY easy to allow those voices to impact many different aspects of our lives. Examples:
An author sends out their first round of queries to agents and waits. And waits. And waits. The waiting is excruciating when you want something so bad you can almost taste it, and the silence is deafening.
Even the silence has its own voice, doesn’t it?
They begin to wonder if this is just a pipe dream… They whisper to themselves thoughts of self-doubt, thoughts that try to squash those dreams we discussed last week… It starts to affect our sleeping habits, our eating habits, our relationships, how we take care of ourselves, and so on… Until they hear something from one of the agents. And then the agent’s voice is mixed in with whatever thoughts are now flowing depending on the response.
Words are powerful. Even our own.
A musician lands the role of their dreams. While in rehearsal, the director that they have strived to get to work under and respect more than most tells them they have a long way to go until they’re ready for opening night. Boom. The voice of the director mixes with the musician’s own voice. You’re not good enough. What if I don’t get it? Am I one step away from being fired and the understudy stepping in? What will I do with my life if I am fired? This was it for me…and then we see it start to affect their daily lives and choices as well… Or maybe we don’t see it. I’ve come to realize that we don’t usually see those things actually. We see only what people allow us to see…
Voices can be life-altering. Even our own.
Every single person you come in contact with has a voice that can speak into you. They can breathe life or drop us into a pit of despair it seems at a moment’s notice. Our heads can spin and put us into a downward or upward spiral all from one phone call, email, text, coffee date, whatever. It can come from family, friends, business partners, strangers… It’s exhilarating and exhausting sometimes. And sometimes, as an artist making art your business, it can happen throughout a day as if you are on a roller coaster. I get it. I’ve been there.
But here’s the thing…
Sometimes we allow words and voices to have power over us that should never get to speak into us and have that kind of power. Sometimes we turn words and those voices into something they actually are not. Sometimes… we allow the voices to live for us instead of doing the actual living ourselves.
Because voices and words are powerful. All of them.
So as an artist, how do we combat that? How do we fight the battle of the voices being thrown at us when there are so many voices, including our own, shouting, speaking, whispering, staring…
It’s hard. Tackling the battle of the voices is hard. Especially when what you do is creating what you were created to make and do and then releasing it out into the world for the public to do with it as they choose.
It’s scary. Never knowing what is going to come out of someone’s mouth, even when said with good intentions, is scary. It can feel like some days are a battle. And many days you are walking on eggshells. One wrong move, one word misplaced, one silly look or email or social media post, and it’s over.
It’s vulnerable. Don’t these people know that everything you do, say, sing, write, play is your heart bleeding for them to see? Don’t they understand that you’re doing what you do because you can’t NOT do it? Don’t they get it?
Some do. Some don’t.
And that’s okay.
This life would be so boring and predictable and beige if we all just got it and understood and thought the same, felt the same, lived the same.
And that is important to remember. As you read words thrown at you and listen to voices in your ear, you must keep the mantra “Perspective is everything” running through your mind. Especially after you hit publish, stick that song on iTunes, or step up to the Open Mic.
Their perspective will rarely be your perspective.
So in this battle, two things have helped me along the way. And I don’t even pretend to have this all together, friends… but these two series of questions have helped me. Things to think about when the voices seem loud and are replaying on repeat as if someone is playing a really bad iTunes joke with a Vanilla Ice song in your head…
- Whose voice is playing in your ear? Do they deserve the kind of power you are allowing them? Do they have a full picture or perspective of this? Have you allowed them this right? Are they speaking truth? Is this someone I respect, that has shown great wisdom, in this area?
If the answer is NO to any of those questions, I tend to stick that voice in a box, listening and nodding as if I’m at a high school reunion and I just encountered that one person that I hoped against hope I would never encounter again, but striving to be a woman of grace, of peace, of kindness.
If the answer is YES-my ears perk and I allow myself to open up to what they have to say. Because too many voices can be chaotic and confusing and disheartening. And once you open yourself to the public, there are even more voices coming at you. So choose wisely, even when it comes to self-meaning friends and family.
- Sometimes the most powerful voice is my own. Is your own. So I have to ask myself if I’m speaking truth to myself. Or am I MSU-ing and playing the what-if game. Am I listening to the lies of self-doubt? Am I allowing myself to be my worst critic?
Again, it’s hard. I know. Because the voices that whisper and swirl around us often comingle with our own self-doubts like that roommate you just couldn’t seem to get away from in college, and it makes the truth even harder to discern and hear.
Write your truths down. Put them up where you can see them and read them on a regular basis. Not just in a notebook that you can close and only take out in your most desperate of times, but on your doorposts and walls…where you can’t ignore them. Where the truth, your truth, can encourage you, speak into you. Allow your voice to speak loud and clear so that when the other voices come upon you, and they will come upon you, you are clear on how to listen and who to listen to each time. Even when it comes to your own voice. Yes, take the criticism when it warrants. You don’t get better without it or if you ignore it. But choose wisely, dear friends, to the voices you listen to.