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June 30, 2012

Finding Your Authentic Voice

by Howard Suber

I had lunch with a former student, and as we sat down, I asked how things were going. My lunch mate responded, “I’m still trying to find my voice.”

It’s a line I hear a lot from creative people, and it got me thinking.

What does it mean to “find your voice?” I usually understand that someone is saying, “I want to find the authentic me.” While that certainly is a laudable goal, there are some things I think we need to think about in searching for it.

What is (or was) Charlie Sheen’s voice? The funny, free-spirited, endearing hedonist of Two and a Half Men? Or the addicted, mean-spirited, violent and often vile asshole who kept cropping up in the headlines so much last year and finally provoked CBS to abort its most successful comedy in years? Will it be the same voice in the new Anger Management series? Which one is his “authentic” voice?

Whenever someone gains great power or popularity, people want to know what “they’re really like.” This suggests that people intuitively feel that what they see is not authentic. We are often relieved to hear they’re just “an ordinary person,” or if their persona is positive, that what you see is what you get – that they are authentic.

Writers also search for their voice. A script by Aaron Sorkin is often easily recognized by its fast-paced dialogue, long monologues, and wit. It’s his style of writing, his signature. But what does that have to do with authenticity?

Is your “voice” the  “authentic”  you? Or is your voice a persona (the word the ancient Greeks used for “mask”) — a role? When you’re out in the world, you may be a student, teacher, intern, employee, boss, or some kind of a genius. When you’re home, however, you may be a son, daughter, father, mother, sibling, cook, gardener, repairman … but seldom a genius. We’re all different when we speak to a group than when we speak to a friend. We’re different in bed than in a restaurant. We play many roles, often within the same day, but that doesn’t mean one of them is more or less authentic than the other. We can have many voices, and all of them can be authentic.

Authenticity is only part of what people seek when they say they are searching for their voice. They also hope to discover something unique, something that differentiates them from others. Something they can sell.

If you’re a writer, actor, director or producer, you should be looking for your voice. But your “voice” is a persona,  a projection of a possible  you. Don’t confuse it with the authentic “you.”

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