If you want to find your voice, put it in the world

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing success meant getting things right. I listened to instructions, paid attention to what was expected of me, and followed the rules. Mistakes meant carelessness and were to be avoided at all costs.

But entrepreneurship has taught me otherwise. Today, I know perfectionism can be a liability in work and life, especially if you want to make an impact. I’ve learned that growing requires you to use your voice, even when it feels a little shaky. In this post, I’ll share about a time when I generated returns by putting my imperfect voice in the world. No polished opportunity existed, but I moved ahead anyway. 

What’s Holding You Back?

Maybe you sing or write or design. I’ve got a friend whose passion is supporting musicians by planning concerts. Maybe you’re a multipotentialite with umpteen ways to express yourself. Regardless, the best way to find your voice is to use it.

If you’re holding back, maybe you fit one of these categories:

  • You think you have no right to hack your way into your medium. After all, there are pros out there who are actually qualified.
  • You’re in the middle of a cool project, things begin to flow and–ooh, shiny–another idea comes your way.
  • There’s enough happening in your life as it is. Who has time to create stuff AND eat dinner every night?
  • And, what about this one: You sense your own power and aren’t sure what’ll happen if you let it out.

Your Everyday Skill Is a Superpower 

When I became self-employed in 2017, I’d lived all four. I’d left full-time employment the previous December, and I’d taken on a part-time job to free up time to start my business. 

I’d been creating curricular materials for years as an employee, but how would it be to develop a course of my own? I wanted to find out. So, I chose an experiment: I’d build a short class and post it online. I’d even chosen my topic: public speaking for introverts. 

Have you ever discovered something meaningful about your worldview, as a result of leaving a job or other long-term relationship? This phenomenon came true for me during this period, when my 15-year career as a museum educator had just come to an end. For point of reference, the place I’d just left wasn’t just any museum; it’s well known in its field as being a top place to work.

There, I was surrounded by  people who operated at a high level. They were curious. They were dedicated, ambitious, and caring. And because I worked in the education department, my co-workers were exceptional communicators. Starting my own venture, I was shocked to discover that several professional skills I thought were normal, are in fact, quite extraordinary. One is delivering presentations. 

For my former colleagues and me, giving talks was normal: facilitating teacher workshops, leading student field trips, and speaking at conferences. Over the years I’d lost sight of the fact these activities aren’t automatic. Indeed, at one point I’d had to learn how. (Flashback: During my first talk at the museum, 10 years prior, I froze so badly I couldn’t finish a sentence. My face flushed bright red while I stammered.) 

presenter in front of projector screen

Now that I’d left the comfort zone of my museum job, I was also shocked to discover that being an educator, in and of itself, is a major strength in the marketplace. Thanks to longstanding misconceptions in society, I’d been undervaluing it for far too long. Simplifying abstract content is no small feat; it’s a highly valuable skill!

The ability to bring a concept to life–in an engaging way that matters to the learner–is something every business needs. All of a sudden, after a lifetime of internalizing messages that educators couldn’t make money (and shouldn’t), I saw this belief as the sham I now know it to be. 

Take Action, In Your Way

Emboldened by these revelations, I couldn’t wait to start leveraging my education superpowers in a new way. I’d been writing curricular materials for years, but never for my own business. Soon, I’d embark on creating my very first product: an online course for shy people about how to give a talk.

Instructional design was familiar to me, but I was new to the world of online courses for small business. Then, as now, there were many ways to go about it. Several platforms were available, and each had its own business model. The platform I chose was Skillshare. 

Did I conduct exhaustive research? No. I’d taken a few classes on Skillshare, so it felt familiar. They also provided a 30-day challenge for new course creators. My goal was to get started, not spin my wheels. Intentionally avoiding weeks of perfectionistic research, I jumped right in.

At the time, I was working with a self-employment coach. (His name is Stephen Warley, and his podcast, Life Skills That Matter, helped me see opportunity in today’s world of work.) Thrilled about my plan to create the course, I devoted one of our online meetings to talking it through. I was excited, and I was pleased to discover he shared my enthusiasm. I left the call with some action items.

The first thing I did after the call was assess what was already out there. Unfortunately, my optimism faded right away. Upon discovering Skillshare already featured a few classes on giving presentations, I lost my nerve. “How could I possibly measure up to these?” I wondered. Doubt crept in as I asked myself: “Who do I think I am? It’s not like I’m Tony Robbins or anything!” 

Terrified, I became convinced there was no point. One class in particular, spooked me. It was created by a guy who’d built a business around training people to give talks. He’d worked with big-name companies, and his videos oozed the tone of a guy who knows what he’s doing.

Other Voices May Be Good, But They’re Not Yours

Up came my next call with Stephen. I told him I’d abandoned that silly “teaching about presenting” thing. Relieved to have saved myself from creating this worthless class, I shared my new topic idea. But as it happened, he wasn’t having it. Over the course of the next hour, he guided me to a new perspective, one that led me back to my original plan.

That call turned out to be fateful for me. Not only did it change my course of action, but it taught me a lesson so memorable, I’ve relied on it ever since. I’ll never forget what Stephen said to me that day: “Suzi, that other course may be good. But it doesn’t have YOUR voice.”

“Sure, a millennial male who exudes confidence is going to appeal to a subset of people,” he said. “There’s a market for him, and that’s okay.” He went on, “But what about a middle-aged woman who openly talks about being nervous? Somebody out there would rather learn from you.” Reassuring me, he repeated the point: “That other course doesn’t have YOUR voice.”

Redirecting my fears, Stephen taught me about today’s creator economy. As I now know, we live in a world of infinite niches, not mass markets. If we want to attract our people, we must own who we are. We must let go of trying to portray ourselves as perfect machines who have it all figured out. And we must claim our ability to speak to those who need to hear us, uniquely.

After our session, I never looked back. I spent the next few months making my class, The Empowered Presenter: From Hesitance to Confidence in 10 Steps. (No, I didn’t finish it in 30 days.) And you know what happened? The process of developing it, showed me the value of my perspective. It gave me a tool for sharpening this point of view. And it unearthed a path to helping others. Not only that, but over time the course generated data that proved the effort was worth it.

Screenshot of Skillshare classes

I hit publish on that class just over five years ago. Since then, it’s been taken by more than 1,164 students, who’ve watched it collectively for 22,092 minutes! And despite the fact that I moved on to other things and did no marketing, the class has generated more than 1,200 in passive income.

 

stats from Skillshare teacher page

Sure, I get that earning a thousand bucks in 5 years won’t make or break a career. But that class was never meant to be a core part of my business model. Instead, I tell you this story to show what can happen when you use your voice, even when you’re scared. 

Though I’ve never met my students, I know how valuable their time is. Each of them had a choice: Take that other guy’s class–and/or mine. Based on their engagement with my lessons, it’s clear the class has a right to exist. Now, there’s no doubt: My voice does, in fact, have a rightful spot in the marketplace. 

So, what about you? What knowledge have you gained, in your personal and professional life, that can empower others? I can’t think of a time when an obvious, predictable path has appeared for my business. More often than not, I’ve had to take action in order to find clarity about next steps. As I’ve discovered, the best way to reinforce your value–yes, even to yourself–is to begin to speak.

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