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Voiceless

03.25.2015 / TRAVEL

It happened like this. I went to bed last week with a voice – albeit a throaty, hoarse one – and I woke without one.

I was in Austin, scheduled to keynote a conference with a gaggle of women who I simply couldn’t wait to meet. They were “Me, too” women – the kind that promise instant and sometimes lifelong connections simply because there are no layers to sift through upon introduction. Bloggers, authors, stylists, women, mothers, a passion burning beneath their skin that whispers, tell your story. Tell any one of your stories.

It was my kind of event – a stripped down, bare bones essential sort of place, in a camp setting where we bunked on hard mattresses and stashed Girl Scout cookies beneath our pillows. There was horse-back riding and ropes courses and cacti, and lots of rain for puddle-jumping and hunkering down. It was perfect, in a sense, except for the voice.

I’ve never lost my voice completely, never whittled it down to a whisper like I did last week. It was frustrating at first, but then, I don’t know, I’m being frank here – kind of freeing once I settled in for the ride.

There was no room for performing. There was no room for small talk, or any talk at all, and I found myself challenged by the idea of sitting in a corner, listening and watching without contributing. I penciled in a quick note on my nametag, “Lost my voice!” in a brief attempt to explain my lack of response when someone would approach me, asking where the restroom was, or were those Toms shoes I was wearing? I would nod, and smile, and make really non-elegant hand gestures, and the rest of the time, silence.

To learn to sit with silence is something I’ve been working toward, an attempt I’m quite often failing. But when it’s forced, when there is nothing but you, voiceless, in a sea of women and cacti and luncheons, something shifts. You allow the silence, because you must. You embrace the silence, because you must.

A funny thing happened, on the day of my keynote. I was scheduled to lead a guided journaling session, of which there was no chance I could possibly squeak out enough sound to fulfill an entire hour of writing prompts. And so, I hopped on my computer to complete a quick Powerpoint presentation, which began like this:

So, I’ve lost my voice.

New slide.

But that’s OK, because this session isn’t about me losing my voice.

New slide.

It’s about you finding yours.

And there was slide after slide about the importance of listening to each other, and listening to ourselves, and maybe – just maybe – allowing enough silence to reverberate between the two.

How often do we listen to the advice of others without first seeking our own? How often do we speak the words of others without first forming our own? How often do we hope for the path of another without first walking along – rain boots and cacti – our own?

And so, last week, I learned to sit with myself. To take good care of myself, and my voice and to rest, and listen, and be. No masks, no performances, no pretense or objective.

It was what it was – rain and woods and quiet.

[photo credit: chelsea laine francis]

  • So much of social media is “look at me, look at me, look at me”. How many followers? How many likes? How many clicks? How do I get YOU to do what I want you to do?

    The measure of “success” is volume. Quantity rather than quality. And if there is a connection, it’s a mile wide and an inch deep. We don’t even have to write any words any longer – throw in a few fave emojis and we’re done. On to the next one.

    But I think the tide is turning. Or at least there is a growing segment where it’s about connecting. A real connection. A real connection even if there is marketing involved.

    Have only 10 followers on your blog? Or IG account? Maybe only 23 people open your brand new newsletter.

    Write to them. Take your photos for them. Read what they are writing Talk to them. Engage. Listen. Respond.

    A model for me is a woman I have gotten to know through IG. She’s new to IG with maybe 100 followers. But you know, she is SO engaged with her followers that she’ll receive 40+ comments on her photos. There’s a back & forth and a real “knowing” and listening. It’s just a pleasure.

    • I love this, Sandra – thank you for sharing. Isn’t connection the beauty of this new world we live in? If we miss it, we’re missing the greatest part of all. :)

  • What a perfect example of making lemonade out of lemons Erin! Hope your voice is back. :)

    • Ahhh, thank you! It’s almost there, slowly but surely! :)

  • Hi Erin,
    Your journaling session was so so great and even though I was eager to talk to and didn’t because you lost your voice, I definitely want to find the time to get to know you in the future even if it’s through the internet!
    Bryn

    • Oh Bryn, you’re so kind – thank you so much for your encouragement!!!

  • I love this! I’ve only once lost my voice entirely and it was on a team trip to Disneyland/CA Adventure. I got hopelessly lost without a phone or a voice. I couldn’t find any of my teammates and it was mildly horrifying to not even be able to ask a security guard to borrow his phone. Not even a whisper came out. Not even much of a scream on roller coasters Not that this is anything like losing a voice before a keynote. But how you handled it was genius. Love it.

    • Oh goodness, that sounds horrifying indeed!!!! Wowza! Happy you made it out the other side. ;)

  • I was touched by your session even without the voice! And even though we didn’t get to talk much, I was calmed by your presence just sitting by you at dinner . I could tell you are also a “me too” kind of person. :)

    • You’re so kind, Kathleen – thank you! We’re Xanga sisters, after all. ;)

  • Dear Erin,

    Thank you for sharing your truth, and giving voice to what flows deep within your heart. The only way I know how to give back to other women is to share my story, one of finding my self and my voice which was a very long journey from the dark night of the soul to the light of heart.

    I appreciate the gifts you give here, the honest and humble offering of lessons that extend more love in the world are incredibly supportive. Thank you.

    With love,

    Jocelyn

  • Love this story – and I love the lesson. Quieting times are always a time of learning and refreshing but it is very difficult to make ourselves do that. It is inspiring to hear how you turned a potentially terrible day into a positive one not just for you but for the other women at the event!

    • You’re so right – it’s hard to rest and allow the quiet. And thank you for your encouragement!!

  • I really love this.

    Most blogs make me want stuff I don’t need, yours inspires me to look deeper and to write and to do all sorts of things that fill me up. Never a waste of time.

    Wish I could have been there for that silent keynote!

    • Thank you so much for such a sweet note, Whit!!!!

  • […]  Love how Erin lost her voice.  And instead of shutting up, created something awesome that spoke […]

  • grace

    i know that you have your packing skills down pat (Kudos to you! i’m still afraid of repetition) but have you ever heard of travelfashiongirl.com? on that site they have capsule wardrobes for many different destination, and the minimalist/basic/maxxinista packing lists for multi-country or climate or round the world trips. quite inspiring to read for those who still check bags! ;)

    • Oooooh that sounds so exciting – thanks for sending my way, Grace! :) I’ll definitely check it out!

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