Your Voice is Your Calling

Looking back over the past month of my inconsistent though earnest attempt to post regularly on this site, I’m struck by the randomness of the content. Most people coming to the site for the first time are probably wondering “what the hell is this about” And that’s because I still haven’t quite found the best way to speak with my true voice here.

That’s one trait of great sites which I really admire. People like Jory des Jardin, Ellen Lamb, Ken Levine, Tom Peters and Tod Goldberg (among many others) do a great job of publishing original material whose tone and content are seamless. And, without beating myself up, I haven’t realized such a consistency of voice, a fullness of who-I-am online. Yet.

And here’s why it matters so much on this site, which is really about the spirit of enterprise (that’s what my book explores too by the way.) Regardless of whether you are writing a book, starting a business, cobbling together a career, or simply living a life, it all makes far more sense when you’ve found your voice, and then travel down a path that serves as a place for you to sing. And everyone has a different voice which is as unique as a fingerprint.

Two recent things reinforced this thought for me. The first was a televised concert with Elvis Costello and guest stars, among them Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day. When Armstrong sang Wake Me Up When September Comes (aided by a powerful performance by Sir Elvis and the Imposters) I realized that whoever chooses to cover this song, it will always be his—that he has written the perfect song for him to sing. Dancer from dance, singer from song; venture from adventurer. How can we tell the difference, and why should we care?

The second prompt came from this Warren Buffet quote in an interview about his philanthropic plans in Fortune.

“Well, when we got married in 1952, I told Susie I was going to be rich. That wasn’t going to be because of any special virtues of mine or even because of hard work, but because I was born with the right skills in the right place at the right time. I was wired at birth to allocate capital and was lucky enough to have people around me early on—my parents and teachers and Susie—who helped me to make the most of that.

“In any case, Susie didn’t get very excited when I told her we were going to get rich. She either didn’t care or didn’t believe me—probably both, in fact. But to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it—and that was to give it back to society. In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously overpriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century.”

Now, I’m just going to discount the value of hindsight here and take his words at face value. Even then they have great power. Here’s a guy who knew precisely what he was meant to do at an early age, had the good fortune to find the external resources to help him, and who performed his craft consistently for decades.

While none of us will amass the wealth of Warren Buffet, nor will few become the successor to Billy Joe Armstrong, I admire each for their consistency of vision, and their stubborn, patient, discipline when it comes to sticking to their vocation. There are certainly others I’d put on this list: famous folks like Scott Adams, Michael Lewis, Christopher Guest, Joss Whedon; and less-famous but equally worthy people like my buddy Gus Rancatore, owner extraordinaire of Toscanini’s Ice Cream.

And of course, I’d like to add a few others: you out there, and myself. My advice to you, and I assume my audience to be entrepreneurs whose ventures can be very loosely defined, is this: spend more time understanding your voice, and shape your venture to fit. Don’t pursue great wealth, or fame, or arbitrary measures that are beyond your control. Instead of launching an inauthentic business to capture a momentary business pocket; focus instead on recognizing what you’re good at, what you care about, and what you can deliver, and then adapt that to the world around you.

My advice to me is simpler: keep writing. Ultimately, the thing which I love to produce, and which comprises the bulk of my income (okay—which I’d like to comprise the bulk of it—most of which now comes through consulting), is writing. So, instead of getting too precious about this topic, I’ll shut up about it. And post again. Quickly. Quickly and slowly.

P.S. (I just came across this Ray Charles quote: ""With singing, the name of the game is to make yourself believable. When somebody hears you sing a song and they say, "Oh, that must have happened to him," that's when you know you're transmitting. It's like being a good actor. You make people feel things, emotions, and whatnot. But you gotta start with yourself. You got to feel it yourself. If you don't feel it, how do you expect someone else to?"

Posted by tom at September 2, 2006 02:56 PM

I love this Tom; in so openly sharing yourself with us you have also given us wonderful coaching. I believe in so much of what you have written here; in that we are born with innate talents just waiting for us to discover them; and in that we just need to get to a certain place of knowing, where our acceptance of who we are and what is possible for us becomes our better attitude —whatever we face.

The concept that your voice is your calling has such strong connection to one’s aloha spirit —it comes from good, it is destined for great, and it speaks to the breath of life (the literal translation of aloha) inside each one of us.

As you know, I love your Startup Garden, and I have great admiration for you and the knowledge you possess which colors your voice so richly; you are an eager learner, and one intent on connecting meaning to what you learn. I am so glad you are committed to your writing, and that in your writing voice you are such a terrific storyteller, for it is a gift to us.

Posted by: Rosa Say on September 3, 2006 03:54 PM

Thank you Rosa!

Posted by: Tom Ehrenfeld on September 3, 2006 09:29 PM

Tom--I loved this post. And I'll add to it by saying that connection isn't elusive. Though our ability to transmit from day to day sometimes varies. There are time in my life when I'm far more connected than others--perhaps your issue isn't that you are disconnected from voice but that your voice right now is a shifting one. Keep following it! I guarantee you that we'll be entertained/inspired in the process.

Come to think of it, you are right about that Green Day song.

Posted by: Jory Des Jardins on September 4, 2006 12:40 PM

Tom, I love what you say here:

"Instead of launching an inauthentic business to capture a momentary business pocket; focus instead on recognizing what you’re good at, what you care about, and what you can deliver, and then adapt that to the world around you."

I think that's the secret to feeling successful. It's beautiful when we can make that happen, when we know what it is that we have to share with the world and we have the opportunity - or create the opportunity - to share that gift. In giving that gift of ourselves, we generate energy, synergy, movement, aliveness. And frankly, what else is there?

Yes, keep writing. Please.
Warm regards,

Posted by: Verna Wilder on September 5, 2006 12:44 AM

Your voice is coming through loud and clear...and deliciously human. Thank you for your openness. We are encouraged as much by one another's struggles as we are by one another's successes. It assures us that we are not alone in our imperfect efforts. Knowing the struggles of our fellows also compels us to reach out and inspire and encourage one another, which is a delectable state of being to our hearts and souls. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." What if that step is a baby step? What if they are all baby steps? As long as we are stepping in the right direction, we are still making progress. At least, that's the way I see it.

Posted by: Cathy Thorsen on September 5, 2006 02:11 PM
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Good Writing Begets Good Writing



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