When you were a kid, did you hear the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard?” That seemed to be one of my family’s favorites! My parents were older when I was born, and I was my mother’s only child—my dad had a previous family that lived in another state. I was almost always the only kid in the room, and as a naturally outgoing and talkative soul, I quickly got the message that I needed to tone it down.
I spent years playing small, biting my tongue, and avoiding saying about a million things that needed to be said. When I was 33 years old, I was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma, and I realized that I didn’t want to die without saying everything I had to say.
That was the moment I learned to live out loud. What does that mean? First, it means being my authentic self. All of my family’s emphasis on peace-and-quiet, juxtaposed with my loud and boisterous nature, gave me the message that there was definitely something wrong with me—that I was inherently flawed because I couldn’t just disappear into the background. Once I was given a second chance at living, I realized that I am here to leave my mark, to touch people’s lives, to share ideas, to build relationships. I can’t do that with a (metaphorical) gag on!
It took a lot of courage to break out of the old habit of staying quiet and hiding my thoughts and opinions, but eventually, I got better at it. I realized that sometimes when I spoke up, I got dirty looks and criticism, and sometimes, I made friends and influenced opinions and inspired people and made a difference. Most importantly, I learned that I love talking! Since that moment, every job I’ve had has involved professional speaking at some level. It is my purpose, and I’m good at it. I couldn’t find that out until I started speaking.
Second, living out loud means learning to trust our intuition. This may seem contradictory, since intuition is an internal process that we rarely do “out loud.” However, we are more likely to speak up about things that are important to us when we are very clear on what those are. Determining how we feel about situations and issues comes from listening to the small voice within, not the noisy voices around us.
Do you know what you really like? Do you have a sense of your authentic style, food preferences, friendships, and entertainment choices? Many of us watch movies or TV shows because we think we should, in order to be part of the culture, even if we don’t like them. We stay friends with people who don’t treat us well because everyone else seems to like that person, or we don’t want to cause conflict. Some of us stay in marriages for decades longer than is good for us because we don’t really know how much we deserve from a relationship.
This is another version of remaining quiet. When we trust our intuition, we know when something isn’t right for us, even if everyone around us thinks it’s great. For example, I don’t like chocolate. I can’t help it, I just don’t like the flavor, especially in cake, ice cream, frosting, or pudding. As you can imagine, everyone in the world thinks I’m crazy when I say this, and for years I just choked down the chocolate so that I didn’t have to bring it up. Pretty soon, chocolate started to make me sick, and I took that as a sign to listen to my intuition and do what my body was telling ME to do.
Which leads me to the third practice for living out loud–stop caring what anyone else thinks. Most of the reason that it took having Stage IV cancer for me to break away from my family’s rules and live out loud was because I was so afraid of the judgement, criticism and rejection that I might get if I didn’t do what I was told. I defined myself based on other people’s opinions of me, so I could never risk making anyone angry or opposing someone important to me. I was the classic people-pleaser, afraid to speak my own truth for fear it might affect someone else’s opinion of me. When I finally learned to appreciate myself and gave up caring about other people’s opinions, I could finally live out loud.
What do you need to do to live out loud? You only go around once. Don’t you want us all to know you were here?