Getting Rid of Regret: Find Your Own Voicesam
by Marc Muchnick
Social pressure is an inescapable reality for all of us, regardless of whether we are teenagers or adults. It’s the reason why we may feel compelled to wear a particular brand of clothing, use the latest buzzwords, or act a certain way to fit in. It also may be why we think it’s important to live in a particular neighborhood, drive a specific kind of car, or be politically correct. Left unchecked, our efforts to conform can consume our lives and leave us with the regret of losing our individuality.
What makes us so obsessed with blending in? What is the allure of being just like everyone else? When our focus in life becomes clouded by our fixation on gaining the approval of others, we lose clarity about what we bring to the table as individuals. That was me in the seventh grade. I was young, impressionable, and lost. Everything that mattered to me had to do with hanging with the “in” crowd and trying to win their acceptance. I did what they did, said what they said, and adopted their interests as my own. The last thing I wanted to be seen as was different.
One day my English teacher asked me to stay after class. Terrified, I approached her desk once the bell had rung. “What did I do, Mrs. Madden?” I asked with apprehension.
Mrs. Madden, who was late in years yet had a strikingly youthful and kind face, replied, “It’s not what you did—it’s what you haven’t done.” I was confused. “When I was reading the essay you wrote for our last assignment,” she continued, “I kept thinking to myself, This kid could be a writer someday. He has talent, but it’s all bottled up inside. If you ask me, you’re just scared to let it all out.”
I was dumbfounded. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Of course you don’t,” she said, smiling. “Like most students your age, you spend so much time trying to fit in that you lose your sense of identity in the process. It’s hard to express yourself when you don’t know who you are. You’re different, you’re unique, and you have a special gift for articulating your thoughts. You just don’t realize it yet! That’s why I want you to join the creative writing club I run after school. It’ll help you find your voice.”
I took Mrs. Madden’s recommendation and showed up at the next meeting. I had no idea what to expect. When I walked into the room, it was a bit of a shock. Kids were strewn all over the place: some were sitting in beanbag chairs; others were lying on the floor. One of them even had a pillow and had taken off his shoes! All of them were busy writing in journals as “Carry On My Wayward Son”
by Kansas, one of my favorite bands at the time, blared in the background. Mrs. Madden greeted me, then handed me a journal and told me to start writing.
“About what?” I asked her.
“About whatever you want,” she said. “Find a place in the room and try closing your eyes. It will come to you.”
At first I felt stupid and self-conscious sitting there on the floor with an empty journal in my hand and my eyes shut. What if my friends looked in through the window and saw me? “Relax,” I heard Mrs. Madden say to me from across the room. I tried focusing on the music, and that helped calm me down. Then for some reason I started thinking about my Uncle Joe, whose funeral I had just attended over the weekend. He was someone that I loved very much and was really going to miss. That was it! Suddenly I had a flood of thoughts about what a great guy Uncle Joe had been, and I began writing. When I left the room an hour later, I had written my first poem.
From that point on, even through high school, when very few of my friends thought writing poetry and short stories was cool, I religiously attended Mrs. Madden’s creative writing club. She taught me writing techniques, the art of creative expression, and most of all the importance of discovering who I was and having the courage to be that person without any regrets. I can still hear her telling me, “Find your authentic voice.” That is exactly what I did.
Instead of sticking to the status quo, differentiate yourself from the masses. Resist the forces of conventionality and harvest your hidden talents. Here are some practical ideas for finding your own voice:
- Stop comparing yourself to others – what you think of you is more important than what they think of you.
- Express your viewpoint even if it is unpopular.
- Live true to your core beliefs.
- When you feel the pressure to conform, DON’T.
- Follow your heart and pursue what taps your passion.
Marc Muchnick is the author of No More Regrets! 30 Ways to Greater Happiness and Meaning in Your Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). For more information go to: www.no-more-regrets.com.