I once had a friend who loved a particular saint. She read her books, prayed her prayers and in general, modeled her life after the saint.
Until it stopped working.
She realized that she was better off finding her own way. Years later when I asked her if she was still into the saint, she said quite remarkably, “I actually think that the saint sort of messed me up.”
All those years, she spent trying to be exactly like the saint only to find that she was uniquely gifted in ways the saint couldn't touch. For example, while the saint was mousy and mild-mannered, my friend realized that she had a playful side that made others feel welcome.
My friend is like most of us I suppose- we like experts. They have authority. They are popular. Their voice seems to be “louder than words”.
The catch, of course, is that your voice (mine too) is as loud as you want for it to be. Volume is not what we are looking for. Rather, it's depth we are after.
These days, I'm reading Todd Henry's "Louder Than Words". One of his key points is this: find your own voice over time and then polish its edges. Says Henry, “You need to create space for your creative process to thrive rather than expect it to operate in the cracks of your frenetic schedule.” The fact is that:
- No expert can provide a perfect path.
- No expert knows you exactly like God (and your friends do) does.
- No expert cares enough to talk with you regularly.
- Some experts aren't really experts at all.
- Some experts' experience is so wildly different from yours that following them might be a waste of time.
I'm not opposed to learning from others but I've seen too many "experts" whose advice just isn't helpful to regular folk. My preference would be to listen and learn from mentors. Mentors have a vested interest in you and they care. They typically have accumulated wisdom that can be unpacked through their relationship with you. That's powerful.
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Through mentors, we can be reminded why we do what we do. This is one reason why the GTD weekly review is so important. A weekly review tells us what's on our plate and how we can organize our priorities. Most experts can't do that. They just make us feel bad that we're not more like them.
For me, I am a school leader. My colleagues, each astounding, teach me how to be a better person. Occasionally, I provide something of value to them. Our students? Simply extraordinary in every way. They too help me to find my leadership voice.
Who is helping you find your professional voice at this stage of your career?