Avoid the pointless activity of defining yourself. That's not your job. Your job is to be and do the things that you want to be defined by.
In an article featured in Your Money, Your Life, Adam King writes about how after failing several times to make a living online, he discovered his real problem: he wasn't owning anything of himself.
The concept he shares towards the end, that of uncovering layers of false identity through testing our assumptions, ideas, and beliefs, is incredibly powerful and it's something I intend to actively practice.
I met a successful entrepreneur for brunch in Chicago and she proceeded to fillet the problem wide open for me. "You're not owning anything of yourself," she said. "Own your words, own your vision, own your life."
It didn't take long after that talk for me to uncover the root of all the exhaustion, overwork, stress, and physical breakdown over the past ten years. Simply put, I was pursuing pre-conceived visions of an ideal lifestyle.
Each of my offline businesses was aimed at producing particular experiences tied to a lifestyle vision that I had adopted from other people or from the expectation of the crowd associated with that type of business. The same thing happened when I moved things online. I was pursuing what I was told was the ideal internet lifestyle but, again, it was someone else's ideal rather than my own.
Chasing lifestyles is exhausting because it drains your knowledge, abilities, emotions, and time into bottomless pits. There's no way to achieve the ideal lifestyle of someone else without massive sacrifice of your own truth and happiness.
It's taken time to remove the layers of what I thought I was supposed to pursue so that I can tap into the raw and powerful realizations of what I've actually wanted all along.
One of those layers is identity. In the past, everything I pursued in business and in life was all tied to what is assumed I should obtain due to that identity. If I eliminate the idea of being a writer, artist, designer, or whatever I might call myself, and just focus on mastering that craft, then I grant myself the freedom to achieve the lifestyle I desire outside of the realms of identity and in spite of the social expectations that come from that particular genre or crowd.
It's difficult, being honest with myself about my desired lifestyle. Guilt was a huge factor in holding myself hostage to the work and life I thought I was supposed to have. But the reality was, adhering to that guilt was keeping me from bigger and better things.
In reconstructing my own vision for my ideal lifestyle, I've been learning about the path of people like Derek Sivers, Richard Branson, and even Abraham Lincoln. Doing this has revealed their paths have piles and piles of failed businesses, elections, pursuits, ideas, and dreams behind them.
But in the end, it's those failures that were necessary for success. Each one was another layer of false identity being stripped away to reveal their core truth.
And that's really the key to stopping the pursuit of other people's lifestyles. Be willing to test each idea and inspiration as far as it needs to go in order to learn what you need to learn. Then repeat, often and always. This will quickly peel away the superficial that's hiding the truth about where you want to go and what you want to do.
Finding my writing voice is something I've been taking seriously since the beginning of 2010 and since then I've come across a few excellent sources of inspiration and guidance. I'm sharing three of those below:
It all began when I started searching for my blogging focus after reading Charlie Gilkey's excellent post, Becoming Yourself and Growing Your Blog. (I was considering splitting my blog at that time, but Charlie's comment on that post convinced me to focus my attention in one place.)
My two favorite paragraphs from Charlie's post follow:
You don't grow a blog by thinking about growing a blog or trying to figure out what you should be writing about – you grow a blog by writing, posting, receiving feedback, integrating feedback.. and writing, publishing, posting, integrating feedback... and writing, publishing, and integrating feedback.
To connect with your readers, you'll have to develop the voice and style that is unmistakably you. And you probably won't know who that person is unless you start writing; living is not about being – it's about becoming. Between where you are now and where you want to go stands a lot of writing. Not thinking about writing. Not worrying about writing. Not figuring out what you're going to write. But writing.
Next comes a post by Jeff Goins where he describes an exercise for finding your writing voice. Three of his points that have been incredibly helpful in my own journey follow:
7. Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, "Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?"
8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, "Is this something I would read?" If not, you must change your voice.
9. Ask yourself: "Do I enjoy what I'm writing as I'm writing it?" If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it's at least worth asking.)
And last but certainly not least, this article by Holly Lisle, titled Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice, contains a wealth of things to try, including several games and suggestions for writing in the voice of your favorite authors. Here are my two favorite points from her article:
9. Remember that complacency is your worst enemy.
If you’re comfortable, if you’re rolling along without having to really think, if you haven’t had to challenge yourself, if you know that everyone is going to approve of what you’ve done — you’re wasting your time. Writing done from a position of comfort will never say anything worthwhile.
10. Remember that fear is your best friend.
If your heart is beating fast and your palms are sweating and your mouth is dry, you’re writing from the part of yourself that has something to say that will be worth hearing. Persevere. I’ve never written anything that I’ve really loved that didn’t have me, during many portions of the manuscript, on the edge of my seat from nerves, certain that I couldn’t carry off what I was trying to do, certain that if I did I would so embarrass myself that I’d never be able to show my face in public again — and I kept writing anyway.
At the heart of everything that you’ve ever read that moved you, touched you, changed your life, there was a writer’s fear. And a writer’s determination to say what he had to say in spite of that fear.
So be afraid. Be very afraid. And then thank your fear for telling you that what you’re doing, you’re doing right.
Voice is born from a lot of words and a lot of work — but not just any words or any work will do. You have to bleed a little. You have to shiver a little. You have to love a lot — love your writing, love your failures, love your courage in going on in spite of them, love every small triumph that points toward eventual success. You already have a voice. It’s beautiful, it’s unique, it’s the voice of a best-seller. Your job is to lead it from the darkest of the dark places and the deepest of the deep waters into the light of day.
When you say more, you underemphasize less.
You may not be heard clearly, but you will be heard.
Ideas will grow wings.
Knowledge will plant roots.
Your voice will shape the future.
Saying more increases our potential to emphasis what matters. Saying less reduces our potential to change the world; it spoils our creative genius and lays ruin to our inner brilliance.
Sporadic communication is indifferent.
Recurring communication is powerful.
You can reduce risk by saying less: fewer mistakes will be made and less attrition will occur. It's easy to come across as interesting, persuasive, or even eloquent when you're quiet. But until you empty yourself of that which needs growth, you cannot cultivate an environment from which growth spurts.
You don't need to speak at a conference every month or publish 1,000 words every day. One thought. One paragraph every morning compiled and shared once a week. One spoken sentence when you feel passionately.
Say less but say more. Somewhere, there is someone who needs to hear you.