I was coaching someone recently who described their first day at school when they were 12 years old.
He said, he was a skinny kid with a terrible stammer and the teacher asked his name in front of the class; he couldn’t get it out of his mouth, in terror he ran out of the classroom. As he said, school can be pretty unforgiving. But he then described how he spent the next two years forcing himself into situations where he had to speak in public until he could, in his words, ‘find his voice’.
When he was telling the room this story as part of his leadership journey, I could feel goosebumps while he was talking about finding his voice. It is such a hard thing to do, when everything in your head and body might be telling you different things, to speak out and find your voice. The bravery and vulnerability it takes to open your mouth and speak can sometimes be the biggest step.
I have worked recently with lots of people who are trying to find ways to assert themselves by asking for what they need. For some reason a lot of people have a similar experience during their upbringing when somehow finding their voice, speaking up and saying something was a bad experience. Either embarrassing, anger-making, or humiliating.
I had a problem with my vocal cords when I was a kid, which meant that at times of stress my voice would go croaky and disappear. In one famous (at least for me) moment I stood up during assembly to lead the school in prayer and even though my mouth opened, only a slight squeak and croak came out as I was trying to say “Let us pray”. Then I had to get through the rest of the reading with a scratchy, tight, husky voice and everyone in the school trying, and failing, not to laugh at me.
For many years this would be the case, and I went through some speech therapy to help work my vocal cords correctly and relax them. But that moment in assembly still stays with me. The trauma and scarring that can occur in those years of speaking up and not finding a voice or being able to say what we want is one that is often carried into adulthood.
That is why watching someone find their voice and seeing them take the brave steps to say something is extraordinarily moving, especially for me. As colleagues, parents, and friends, we can help some who is struggling by being patient and offering encouraging words – it realy can make a huge difference.