Finding a Voice

Several years ago, when I had first moved to Toronto, I was going to a good number of job interviews. One of the most common pieces of feedback I got when I wasn’t successful in an interview or when I was being let go was that I was “too creative for the position.” At the time, and even now, it felt like a nice way to brush me off without having to provide too many details about why I wasn’t right for the position. As the years have passed, I think that the feedback might not have been too far off the mark.

I don’t work well when I’m being micromanaged or when I’m given too much freedom. I need some structure and direction but not so much that I’m unable to think for myself and try new things. I have a lot of interests and they seem to keep changing. There are a few hobbies that I’ve kept over the years, but many are just dalliances guided by the winds of my whim. In my work, I like to be able to approach interesting challenges with a curious and open mind and a toolbox full of ideas. As I’ve grown, the one thing that I’ve become less afraid of is failure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified of failure but slightly less so than I was even a few years ago. I try to calculate my risks and assess my willingness to take a hit. More often than not, I’m not interested in the product or the outcome of a meander down an interesting path, but more the learning and personal growth that I’ll experience along the way. Like a dance, the beauty is in the performance, not when the band stops playing.

While moving this summer, I had to think about the things that I wanted to keep and the things that I was willing to get rid of. It bothered me a lot that I had to even make those decisions. I wanted my entire life to come with me, but it couldn’t. And, it shouldn’t have. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I was so bothered by the process.

I’ve always been quite sentimental. I like to hold on to things that remind me of a memory I want to keep. My life is a collection of moments, both painful and joyous. The things I keep are the hieroglyphs that tell my story. They are part of my voice.

And this, the notion of having a voice, is what lies at the centre of all of these disparate pursuits that I find myself engaged in. As I sit here to write this, I want to be a content producer, a LEGO builder, a painter, an author, a photographer, a DJ, an avid reader, and a bodybuilder. I want people to seek me out for my knowledge and skim through my notebooks, searching for clues in my work to help them understand who they are and what their place in the world is. And, I want all of these things because I want to have a voice. I want to be heard. I want people to take notice of me when I want them to but also respect my privacy.

Thing is, I don’t have a very nice sounding voice. It sounds like it’s coming from the highest part of my chest and throat, up through my nose, and spilling out over my lips. The pitch is easily masked by any white noise in the room. When I yell, my voice cracks and I sound like the angry teenager that I once was; the stress often leads to a few pimples, too.

When I speak, I’m often thinking about what I’m trying to say while trying to get the words out. There are long pauses and I stumble on my words. My hands are moving independently, without any direction from my brain, which is too focussed on the sense I’m trying to make with the words I’m trying to say. My eyes, which are already inset, recede even further and I get a strange tunnel vision that allows me to see ahead of myself while looking through a translucent image of my entire face – I can see myself when I’m speaking.

All of these different pursuits are an attempt by me to clear the fog and find the appropriate way to express who I am to myself and others. I want to come to understand who I am and what I stand for. I want to find assuredness in who I am. I want to speak confidently and without hesitation. Most of all, I want to be heard. I want to find the perfect way to speak my truth so that others will be straining to listen.

Everybody has a voice and they should use it. People should be heard. They need to be. But we also have a responsibility to listen to others. We need to give people the space to share their voice. It’s too easy to not listen when someone is telling you something in a way that you don’t understand. People don’t need to speak to share their voice.

When I got that feedback from those hiring managers and recruiters, they weren’t telling me that I was too creative for the position. What they were telling me was that my expression of my voice did not align with their way of listening. If they truly believed that I was that creative, they would have realized that I am also adaptable and determined to continue growing. Or, maybe they were telling me that I haven’t yet figured out what my voice sounds like and they weren’t willing to help me figure it out.

To me, it still begs the question: “If you aren’t looking for a creative approach to the position, whose voice are you listening to hear?”

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