Much like life's ups and downs, writing seems to ebb and flow for me. There are times when the words flow freely and others when it is a challenge to find the time, or when the words feel stuck in my throat. The last couple of months have felt like the latter.
Autumn is my favorite time of year, but it is also always the busiest with my out of town work conference, kids’ activities, and holiday preparations. So, some of it was to be expected. But, if I am completely honest, a lot of it was just an excuse.
The reality is that writing requires hard work and focus on digging deep and being vulnerable to our thoughts and feelings, our doubts and fears. The daily drama playing out on the national stage provides plenty of fodder for discussion, but it has also become quite exhausting, and it felt like a good time to pause and reflect.
The problem with too much time away is that thoughts of doubt begin to fester, making it harder to pick up my pen and just write. They swirled around in my head so frequently that I began to believe them: maybe I had nothing else to say, maybe my voice doesn’t matter anyway, maybe my experiences aren’t valuable enough to share.
It was actually during my work conference that the power of being bold and courageous was made clear to me. I hadn't written anything in weeks and was feeling discouraged about ever writing again. Our conference program pushed the envelope a bit to focus on how national issues directly impact the work we do, and how we must work together to close the growing divides of inequality, particularly around the racial wealth gap. For the first time in my 12 years with this organization, and nearly six as the leader, I took the stage with my usual ball of nerves and a whole lot more conviction and passion. With all eyes on me, I stood in my truth unapologetically, perhaps for the first time in my life. I realized why this work matters and that it was so much bigger than me. My voice was a little shaky at first, and I glanced down at my notes too often. But, more importantly, I stepped out of my comfort zone, took some risks with my leadership and vision, and used my voice to advocate for economic security, inclusion, and a high standard of professionalism for all people, not just those with wealth.
After the session, I walked out of the room playing it over and over in my mind; what I should have said differently, what I could have done better. Just then, one of our partners came up to me and shared how moved he was by my remarks. He showed me the page of notes he had taken. Others shared that they felt like we were leading a movement, or that they were inspired and excited about the tone. Maybe, even in my imperfection, my words resonated with others.
It reminded me that the quest for perfection is paralyzing and elusive, and the progress we make gets lost in the midst. Too often, we get stuck looking for the right words or right way to make a difference. The risk of making a mistake or feeling alone causes us to freeze, stay silent, or give up. We feel inadequate against the yardstick of comparison, and even start to believe that nothing will ever change anyway. The thing is, we almost never see the tiny seeds we plant when we speak out about injustice, particularly on someone else’s behalf. Even if just one person opens their heart or mind, isn’t it worth a little discomfort?
The good news is that we don’t have to get up on a stage, run for office, or publish a book to use our voices for good. It can be simple things like offering a new perspective to a discussion at work and making sure all people are represented in a decision or policy. It could be volunteering or donating to a good cause, or advocating for change on your PTA or in your local politics. Or, it could simply mean intentionally talking to your kids about different races and religions, exposing them to new experiences and reading books that include diverse characters and backgrounds.
The most powerful thing we can do with our voices is to advocate for the needs of others and to pave the way for their voices to be heard. When I think about the gun violence in my city, or the deplorable housing conditions of kids in our own community, or the disparity in educational experiences separated from me only by a few miles, I get really upset. These issues should not be political or controversial; they are human issues and demonstrate how well we value life beyond our own. Our discomfort, our anger, and outrage, our passion and compassion are all divine signals of our calling to speak up.
So, no matter how hard it is or how stuck I feel, I am going to think about who and what I am writing for, what is at stake in our communities and in the world, and pick that pen back up.
“Being ourselves means sometimes having to find the courage to stand alone” ~ Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness