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To find your voice, you must first confront your demons

I haven’t written something completely new, start to finish, under my own name since August 3, 2021. But if I’m being frank I haven’t written something wholly original – a bona fide “breaking news” thought forged within the murky depths of the swamp that is my noodle – since October 21, 2020.

(I spent most of 2021 writing analysis on assignment, which I’m very proud of … and it’s also a different style of writing entirely. I was reacting, not starting a conversation.)

So, you’d think this would excite me, right? I should be over the moon that, today, I get to sit down at my keyboard – hopped up on aggressive amounts of espresso and a pistachio muffin I bear-pawed into my face about an hour ago – and share big ideas with you all in an uncensored fashion.

Because this is what I do. Supposedly.

That’s why I’m here, as the new head of brand and content at BS+Co. I’m a writer, content strategist, executive coach and public speaker by profession. My currency is being mouthy, screaming from the rooftops about all of my favorite topics:

Creating content doesn’t have to suck!

Your voice matters and you need to be bold with it!

Yes, your story is important and worth telling!

The only thing holding you back from achieving greatness is yourself!

Don’t be afraid to shout from the rooftops what you believe!

… and here, take a seat on my content therapy couch. I’ll show you how.

I can’t start our relationship off with a lie

So, I’ll own the fact that, despite having this sparkling opportunity in front of me, only 5% of me is excited to be writing this. Well, maybe 10%. The other 90(ish)% of me feels like vomiting. Or drinking. Or drinking and then vomiting.

That’s the way Ernest “Write drunk, edit sober” Hemingway did it, right?

Then he’d emerge from his Lost Generation apartment in Paris or his home in Key West, Florida with his cats, and (allegedly) bellow out some big, bold, ham-fisted statement from deep within his chest like, “The first draft of anything is shit,” and be declared a genius.

(William Morrow, Hemingway Photo Collection, JFK Library)

What a glorious bastard.

Anyway, I thought about avoiding this conversation entirely. I thought about steering out of the skid and writing this first introductory piece with a put-on posture of well-varnished confidence, leaning into one of my tried-and-true “educational” topics.

We’ll get to those in time, I assure you.

But if I can’t be brutally honest with you all right now that I also face the same challenges you all face, then I’m a hypocrite.

Yes, I empower singular visionaries and ethos-driven organizations to find their voice, bring clarity to their big ideas and build their own tribe by amplifying their message. But I also have my own demons.

I am afraid, in many ways, of the stark lines that my own shadow casts around me.

We give fear power when we don’t say its name

Before we can develop that messaging playbook, write that talk, craft that mission statement, author that book, execute that content strategy, build that website that’s an irresistible magnet for our ideal audience, there is another step we must take.

We must acknowledge that deep within every single one of us – no matter how brilliant and smart and genuinely visionary we are – is at least one tiny kernel of fear.

And that fear manifests itself in thousands of different ways:

“I can’t say that out loud. Everyone knows it, but you can’t like … say it.”

“Ha, that’ll never get approved.”

“No one is going to give two shits about what I have to say.”

“My story isn’t relevant.”

“If I put myself out there, someone somewhere will disagree with me publicly on the internet and embarrass me.”

“What if no one agrees with me?”

“What if everyone thinks we’re full of shit?”

“What if we make a ‘bold move’ that blows up in our face and drives business to our competitors?”

“My boss will hate that.”

“When this fails, which it will, all of my worst fears about me will be confirmed as true.”

“I will lose my job.”

“I will destroy my reputation.”

“We can’t put our name on that.”

“What if no one cares?”

“What if we lay it all on the line and then nothing happens?”

As a result of this toxic, fear-based thinking, we become trapped in a loop:

  1. Declare we want to be bold and visionary, with messaging and big ideas that cut through all the bullshit.

  2. Create or publish homogenous nonsense that sounds exactly like everyone else we’re trying to compete with.

  3. Unknowingly collapse into the warm, cancerous embrace of forgettable mediocrity.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Dismantling fear is the non-negotiable first step

More often than not, all of my “content therapy” coaching begins with a bit of fear deconstruction wherein an utterly brilliant business leader, expert or visionary finally admits that they too have a visceral fear that they’ve buried deep within them.

For example, our own founder and CEO, Britt Schwartz, is not without fear, to the point where she initially changed the company name a week after filing the paperwork to something more at arm’s length from her identity:

“I wish I could say I made this 11th hour change because I didn’t want to be accused of egotism by starting a company under my own name. OK, well, that was part of it. But the truer answer is I feared that if people saw my name – if they saw me – they would reject it.” (Read the full article.)

And then there’s a conversation I had earlier this week that blew my mind.

I went to a dinner party thrown by a friend of mine. She gathered together more than 10 brilliant women – restaurant owners, community leaders, writers, and so on – and sat us around her dining room table with bottles of wine and cheese, and she had us all talk about ourselves.

Half of me was just in awe of the wild, unabashed majesty of the women before me. And the other half of me – the mumbling cave dweller that lives within me – was gnawing on a piece of brie cheese, wondering when everyone was going to figure out I’m a 6-foot-tall fraud whose only natural talent is my stunning lack of volume control in small spaces.

Later on that evening, I had a chance to sit down and talk with one of the most accomplished women I’ve ever met because, for some reason, we just clicked.

She worked at a major broadcast news network for years, carving her own path as a peerless journalist and correspondent through three different U.S. presidential administrations. She couldn’t even begin to calculate how much time she had spent aboard Air Force One and her stories … oh, the stories she had!

She’s one of those people you meet and, in an instant, you know you’re in the presence of someone who is a rockstar, in the most authentic and inspiring way possible.

She told me she was writing a book, and that … that really excited me. She commands space and her voice, when she got going, was so crystal clear that one of my first questions to her was, “Do you do any public speaking? If not, you really should consider it.”

But after about 20 minutes of going back and forth, the root of why her book is forever “a work in progress” came out:

“I’m afraid. What if someone comes by and fucks me over because they don’t like what I have to say?”

Then there’s Stephen King who, in the early pages of his bestselling book On Writing (which every single would-be content creator must read), declares that he had waffled for years about writing the book for similar reasons:

“I had been playing with the idea of writing a little book about writing for a year or more at that time, but had held back because I didn’t trust my own motivations – why did I want to write about writing? What made me think I had anything worth saying?”

Bottom line, it doesn’t matter who you are.

Every single one of us possesses at least one small fear we rarely say out loud, but need to desperately if we ever wish to overcome it. Even Stephen King.

But when it’s the middle of the night, and we happen to catch our own eye in the bathroom mirror before we go back to bed, there it is, right? Looking right back at us through our own reflection, mocking us.

Of course, you may think your fear is only (metaphorically speaking) the size of a grain of sand against the backdrop of the entire Sahara desert that is your being and identity and accomplishments. Something so infinitesimal, so “inconsequential” that you convince yourself it requires zero of your attention.

But when you treat those fears like a willful blindspot, the thing you reflexively repress into the deep recesses of your mind, that’s when you’re making your biggest mistake.

You are fundamentally handicapping your ability (by small or large degrees) to achieve singularity through authenticity, to build a movement, to make more money, to attract the right people like moths to a flame … or a flock of Liz Mooreheads (referred to formally as a “clusterfuck of Lizzes”) to a Law & Order (original) marathon.

When you have vision, you need to act like a lobster

Whenever I find myself trapped in this loop of fear and self-imposed restriction (or I see someone else similarly trapped in their own futile cycle, like a hamster on a wheel), I remind myself of this impactful lesson about how lobsters grow, from Dr. Abraham Twerski:

Although lobsters look like nightmare fuel creatures designed by Tim Burton (thanks to their exoskeleton), they’re actually soft, fleshy animals on the inside. Aww.

Like all creatures, lobsters grow, of course. But they do so with one distinct obstacle. Their rigid shell is a static barrier that protects them from the elements, which means it doesn’t grow along with them.

So, what happens when they grow? Well, living in that shell gets really uncomfortable for the lobster. They start to feel pressure and pain and stress every time they move because they have now outgrown the shell that used to be ideal for them.

In response, the lobster hides under a rock because they are about to purposefully move into their most vulnerable and exposed state.

They break through their old shell (which hurts, as you can imagine), exposing themselves (their fleshy, prone bodies), and then they grow a new one … which, at some point down the road, they will likely outgrow, meaning they will need to repeat this process.

But as Twerski so eloquently points out:

“The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it is uncomfortable.”

Moreover, if lobsters went to doctors like people do, it would be a disaster.

Instead of being pushed to embrace the discomfort and interpret it as the signal for real, meaningful growth, it would remain forever stunted. The moment pain shows up, the lobster would likely be given painkillers to manage the symptoms, because that discomfort, that pain is “bad.”

And that brings us to the moral of the story – when we feel pain, when we feel discomfort, when we feel that emotional, fear-based chaffing around the edges, we need to be lobsters.

This is particularly true when you’re a visionary, when you’re a brand trying to stand out from all the bullshit white noise of your competitors, when you have a story worth telling. When you’re scared the most, that’s when you need to take the leap. That’s when you need to be a lobster and force yourself to be vulnerable and grow.

And you’ll have to do it over and over and over.

I still feel like garbage

I wish I could say that I got to the end of this feeling a sense of relief from my own fear gremlins, my own existential dread that my voice is worthless and my ideas are nonsense and, well, you know. To be fair, I do feel a measure of release, that I’ve somehow managed to push through the internal screams of horror to share something I genuinely believe in.

And yet, I still feel a bit like weepy ol’ Fredo Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, fearing that inevitable moment of discovery as a fraud.

The Godfather Wiki

Say what you will about Fredo, the man knew how to rock a suit.

That iconic scene when Michael, his brother, grabs him by the face to declare, “I know it was you, Fredo! You broke my heart,” after learning his own brother was responsible for him and his entire family almost being murdered.

I guess I need to remind myself, as I advise so many others, that to create something from nothing, to say something meaningful that sincerely goes against the grain, to stand out from the noise with intention is an inherently vulnerable act.

That I need to be a lobster and lean into this discomfort, because this fear of “maybe I really am full of shit,” this horrifically painful moment before I hit publish is not a signal to retreat.

Fear is not a warning, it’s a green light. It’s my sign that I need to push harder and be louder.

And I hope you will all challenge yourselves to do the same.