The following is a guest post from Unthinkable contributor, Jina Chan. These are her practical takeaways for helping you find your authentic voice, pulled from our episode, Zig When Others Zag.
As craft-driven creators, we do our best work when we listen to our intuition. Sometimes that can be hard to do, with so many voices clamoring for our attention. We may start to doubt ourselves and wonder what unique qualities we actually bring to the world. The drive to create original work bumps up against the fear of forcing it and coming out sounding fake.
First, know that you’re not alone; “impostor syndrome” is right next to “creative person” in the dictionary. Next, put on your thinking cap. As we go through three practical takeaways on how to find your authentic persona and bring it into your work, your mission is to think of a way that each idea might apply to you. Ready?
“If you just stopped trying to be a better version of everyone else, you might find way more success using your creativity to be the only one who does what you do.” – Jay Acunzo
It’s tough to determine your voice when you’re bombarded with instructions to create 10x content and follow formulas. But if you’re going to find your authentic persona, you need to stop trying to be someone else. If you can’t do that at work (because your boss demands you pump out listicles, for instance), find just one area where you can. Don’t copy others. Don’t look for blueprints. Give yourself the space to be yourself.
“The way to have a long term career is to find your brand, find your niche, find your specific thing that makes you stand out — and then spread that on a mass scale.” — Austen Afridi (DJ Viceroy)
If you already know what makes you stand out, great, skip ahead. But if you don’t know, it’s time to review everything you’ve created. Not just your work, but also social media, letters you’ve written to friends, even old text messages. Pretend you’re a private investigator, and you’ve been hired to investigate you. What does this person rant and rave about? How is their perspective different from others?
Next, interview the people who know you — coworkers, clients, friends and family. Often those people will see things in us that we take for granted. Explain to them that you’re trying to figure out what sets you apart. Ask them, “When you think of me, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?” Write down whatever they say; when you’ve gotten a few answers, look for patterns. (Hat-tip to career advisor Kevin Kermes who cited this approach in his interview on the Art of Charm podcast.)
“By the end of the class, the high-quantity group turned out better work.”
After that, look at who you admire as a creator. “But wait,” you say, “Doesn’t this conflict with not trying to be a better version of everyone else?” No, because you’re not trying to be them — you’re going to pick out the elements you admire. If you love e.e. cummings, is it because of the free and unstructured feeling in the verses? Or the satirical style?
Now that you’ve got some idea of what makes you stand out, spread it on a mass scale. We’re living in a great time, because as creators, we own the means of production. Start a blog, record a video, start sketching, or give a talk at a local meetup. Just get it out there. You’ll try some things that feel right, while some things make you realize, Wait, that actually isn’t me. But it’s through the trying that you find out.
Radio producer Lulu Miller refers to this as “making shitty pots” in her talk on CreativeLive. This comes from an experiment in a pottery class. Half the students were told to make as many pots as possible — even if they were bad ones. The other half were told they would be graded on the quality of their pots. By the end of the class, the high-quantity group turned out better work. So, go try things and don’t worry about the quality for a while. Ironically, it’s sometimes by not worrying about our performance that we improve.
“Stop withholding your personality, and your beliefs, and your opinions from your work.” – Jay
Now that you know your persona, allow it to infuse your work. The end of the “Zig When Others Zag” episode had a challenge to use a personal anecdote somewhere in the very next thing you create. Literally in anything, whether you have a networking meeting or you’re making a label for your home-brewed cider. Once you use that anecdote, it will start to snowball and you’ll find ways to weave more personal experience, opinions and beliefs into your work.
If your job has a lot of creative latitude, this process will be easy. But if you’re working within a set of expectations, you may have to get crafty. Is there some way you can inject your persona into your content, even if it has to be in listicle form? Or can you do the work as usual and then start another project? Something small like writing some copy for the neglected customer service page or creating icons for social media accounts.
Whatever your authentic persona winds up being, remember: The only way to find it is by reflecting on what makes you tick and willingly inserting those traits into your work for others to find.
Keep on doing the unthinkable.
Jina Chan is a writer and content strategist in the Seattle, Washington area. I’ve been working in communication since 1999, as a copywriter, technical writer, editor, and now with web content. Say hi on Twitter @jinachan
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