Finding Your Authentic Voice – Part 1

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Your authentic voice holds the key to your purpose in life. There…I said it…And living with purpose defines fulfillment and happiness…period.


When I Knew!

15 years ago, I knew I wanted to speak for a living. I had already emceed a few weddings and was somewhat surprised at how much I enjoyed it. In my corporate role I would speak at conferences and sales presentations. The effects it had on me were always like a powerful drug. Even though I was scared out of my mind, when I got on stage I found myself in “flow”. If you’ve felt flow you know what it means. It’s that feeling where everything in the world melts away and you are 100% focused on the task at hand? Some people might find flow in making pottery, others might find it in martial arts, and others might find it speaking to large audiences.

So if you’re thinking that was when I decided to make a career out of speaking and facilitation, you would be flat wrong. Even though I felt the rightness of it in my soul, I allowed my fear, outside advice, and the financial pressures of a growing family to hold me back for a while…Well, more than a while…13 years to be exact.

A Terrible Disease

So what happened? The answer is both complex and simple at the same time. I created and listened to all kinds of reasons why following my heart was a bad idea: I wasn’t famous, I didn’t have a following, I hadn’t written a book, it would take too long to ramp up, it wasn’t the right time in my life to take excessive risk…on and on and on. The bottom line is that I allowed my fear of failure to overwhelm my desire to succeed. I actually see it as a disease, one that afflicts millions of human beings. And though it doesn’t cause death, it certainly takes lives.

Close But no Cigar

A few times, I got close to taking the plunge. I had a friend who introduced me to the owner of a speaker’s agency. We immediately developed a great rapport and he told me that he would give me a shot if I could create some decent content. I immediately started writing. Then, instead of staying focused on the content for a 60-minute keynote, it felt like I had drifted into writing a book. So I went with writing a book, thinking this might really be what I was meant to do. And I reasoned that it would be easier to start a speaking career if I had first written a book. In reality, it was really just a well-concocted excuse for backing away from my dream. I never finished the book and my speaking career never went anywhere. I simply retreated back into my corporate comfort zone and rationalized that I wasn’t ready. I guess ultimately, I wasn’t. But the thing is you never are!

Another time, I found myself a free agent during the depths of the credit crisis in 2008. It was tons of fun… I was deeply in debt, my wife was at home with 3 kids under 3 and there weren’t exactly a ton of “help wanted” signs around at the time. Again, I reconsidered developing a speaking career. Except the timing really sucked. Companies were cancelling conferences left and right and training budgets most places were essentially cut to zero. Instead, in early 2009, I ended up opening a Canadian office for a US-based training firm, reasoning that this was an awesome way to learn the ropes as a launching pad to the speaking business.

Except, after the existing contracts were fulfilled and others were cancelled outright, I realized that they too were caught in the vortex of reduced budgets and financial services apathy. I reasoned, perhaps smartly, that I needed to head back to the corporate world for a little stability. That’s when I became a financial advisor with a major bank-owned firm.

The Repeating Pattern

I plodded along but I became all too aware of a repeating pattern. In a new role, I’d be fired up for the first year or two, settle into a comfortable existence in the third and become restless and even a little jaded in the fourth or fifth year. After that, I was really just putting in time, alternating between guilt for not being motivated and short but feverish periods of inspiration that ultimately didn’t go anywhere.

A Misinterpreted Mission Statement

5 years ago while still practicing as a financial advisor, I wrote a personal mission statement in a flash of inspiration. It goes like this:

“I will give my time, talent and perspective, paid or unpaid, to anyone who’ll listen. I will help people to become better, to achieve much closer to their true potential and to lead more purposeful, happy and fulfilled lives. I will help people to truly leave their mark on this planet and, in doing so, I will leave mine. Indeed, with the gifts I was given, it is my responsibility to do so.”

I committed the statement to memory and repeated it in my head rather often. Now, does this statement sound like it describes anything familiar to you? Of course, it’s a perfect definition of a speaking, facilitation and coaching career. But I thought the inspiration had come as a separate flash that needed to be infused into my advisory role. I kept changing my mind, getting drawn into this thing or that, without really seeing the integrated whole. This is a perfect example of a side-effect from making a habit of pushing passions down.

Whether it was that insidious habit, circumstances, fear, or a combination of all three isn’t terribly relevant. The bottom line is that I was lucky enough to have found my passion and I did myself the terrible disservice of not following the lead of the cosmos.

Detaching From a Dream

All the while I was becoming more and more detached from my dream. Here’s the thing…every time your passion rises up and you find a way to push it back down, it loses a little strength. The next time that same passion rises up, it’s a little easier to push down…until it becomes an almost unconscious habit. If you get so practiced at pushing down your passion, sooner or later, it stops popping into your consciousness at all. This is why most people end up going to their graves without ever really chasing their dreams.

And it’s so incredibly sad. If you’re even a remotely spiritual person, the statement that everyone has a purpose on this earth and that everyone truly matters likely resonates. What contributions to humanity in the form of science, art, technology or culture were infused into humans who passed without ever following their universal guidance? The answer is, of course, unknowable but likely gigantic.

But there are other, potentially more powerful side effects as well. My mindset had become decidedly negative and jaded. My belief in the goodness of this world and in the people around me had faded considerably. Honestly, some of that was the shattering of my naivete in having met and worked with a few repulsive human beings. But my outlook, attitude and zest for life had faded, a direct side effect of not following my passion.

A Mental Tug of War

Deep down, of course, I knew that I was meant to be doing something else. It was like a tug of war between my sub-conscious mind that knew my real calling and my comfort-seeking conscious mind constantly inventing reasons for why I needed to stay the course. I even started to believe there was something seriously wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just find fulfillment in the hours that weren’t 9-5. Why couldn’t I just show up and get the job done like regular humans? Why was it, my wife constantly asked, that I always seemed to be searching for something?

To be continued next week…The Impending Crash!


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Brent C. Wagner