“I found my voice. Now what do I do?”

That was the subject of a session I presented at the Toastmasters District 6 Fall Conference last Saturday, and it’s a question I spent a long time trying to answer for myself.

When I first joined Toastmasters, one of the reasons was that I felt I could express myself fairly well in print, but not when I was speaking out loud. I didn’t have any noble or global ambitions at the time, I just wanted to be able to speak up at meetings and have people listen – and understand what I was trying to say. I wanted to be able to share  information that I had and others needed. I wanted to be able to leave a message on someone’s voicemail without rambling.

Even though I didn’t have any grand or worldly intentions at the beginning, it was through Toastmasters that I gained courage, confidence, and the convictions that eventually led me to Uganda, and to the work I’m now doing
there that really will have global implications. And to my passion for helping people everywhere to find and benefit from the gifts, skills, and talents they don’t even realize they have.

One of the things I shared with the participants in my session at the conference was that finding your voice – both the ability and the desire to speak out – can be a first step on the way to finding your calling, which I would describe as whatever it is that beckons you, that motivates you, that challenges you – and perhaps even scares you to death. That
may sound daunting, or like way too much work, but your calling is also what will give you your greatest sense of accomplishment, your strongest sense of satisfaction, and your deepest sense of fulfillment.

It’s not always easy to find your calling, or even to recognize it once you do. But it’s still worth your time and effort to look. And to continue looking for it – not until you find it, but until it finds you.

When I first realized – after several years in Toastmasters – that I wanted to become a professional speaker, I started to dream of speaking to full houses in large venues around the country and the world, in cities like New York. Chicago. London. LA.

Never once during that time did Uganda cross my mind. Never once did I imagine how much I would be drawn to the country, or how welcome and at home I would feel once I was there. And never once did I consider how deep my concern would grow for young prostitutes in a slum outside of the capital city, or how fierce and focused my determination would become to help them build a better life for themselves and their children. I can’t explain how or why all of this happened. But I know that it’s part of my calling, and it’s one of the ways I’m meant to use my voice.

Using your voice, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean being a professional speaker. Or even being a speaker at all. It can mean being a teacher, a mentor, a writer, a friend. It can mean being a counselor, an advocate, an advisor. Or it can mean being silent, and simply listening when someone is in doubt or in pain. Sometimes we speak the loudest and most powerfully when we say nothing at all.

If you’re still in the process of finding your voice, I hope you’ll enjoy whatever it is you discover. I also hope you will continue on from there, exploring and learning what you are meant to do with your voice. And I hope, most of all, that you will realize – with joy and perhaps amazement – that yours is the voice the world is waiting to hear.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 25, 2012.

© Betty Liedtke, 2012

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