Losing Your Voice
I have the privilege of speaking together with a colleague at my agency’s Observance of Martin Luther King next Tuesday. My colleague came up with the brilliant idea for a format whereby we each toss the conversation back and forth between our two core sites in Springfield, VA and St. Louis, MO. Each time we switch sites, one of us will discuss a quote by Dr. King and how it applies to our current situation as individuals, agency employees or Americans. One of the quotes I plan to use is, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I know I’ve heard that quote many times before, but it resonated differently with me this time because of things going on in my professional and personal life.
In the past couple years, I’ve seen too many examples where people have lost their voice–including me. At work, I see too many people who clam up when they know the boss is wrong or needs some advice because they don’t want to risk jeopardizing their career trajectory or upsetting a friend. It’s funny because our mission isn’t to make our director happy or even to make friends at work. Those are nice extra benefits, but our agency exists to provide security for our nation by making the best possible use of every cent the American taxpayer has entrusted to us as stewards of their money and their security. Sometimes, that means telling the emperor he isn’t wearing any clothes or telling our friend that she is making a poor investment in a certain technology solution. As a serious career overachiever, I’ve put myself out there several times in the past year, but I have less to lose than most…and don’t let me fool you with a couple feeble attempts to “speak truth to power.” I’ve lost my voice more times than I care to admit at work.
Remember my last post about confidence and humility? Well, that confidence can sometimes be a detriment, especially when it’s a facade. As a husband, father, friend, leader in the office and colleague, it’s risky to show vulnerability because people are relying on the confident person they see on a daily basis. If you show weakness or doubt, that could change everything in your relationships and positions. So we lose our voice–suck it up, buttercup–and go with the flow that our business, society, church, family or others expect from us because who wants to be the one to let everybody down. But according to Dr. King’s quote, that means our life is coming to an end because all those things matter. Growing up in a midwestern household where stoicism was a highly respected and native virtue, having a voice was frowned upon. Having spent most of the past 25 years on the east coast has exposed me to some very strong people with very loud voices, but volume and confidence don’t always result in the necessary message being delivered. I think we can all take a page from not only Dr. King’s words, but his actions and ensure we don’t slowly pass away while we wander through our personal and professional lives letting others steal our voices.