There are these voices in my head. They can be LOUD. They can be annoying. One sounds a lot like my third grade teacher, Mrs. Williams, a woman who could look at me with the same derision I imagine some would reserve for Hitler. Or Judas. Or John Mayer after he’s been caught talking smack about Jennifer Aniston. I am pretty sure Mrs. Buckley, my eighth grade teacher who hated me is in the mix. Another voice kind of sounds like my mother’s. I can even swear I hear a bit of Oprah. But she’s not telling me that I won a car. Or that I can jump on her couch.
And she’s definitely not telling me that my first novel can be in the Oprah book club.
I am almost positive that one of the voices is my own.
I’m just saying. There are many, many voices. They seem to speak a lot and often at the same time. Individually, each might have something really beautiful and meaningful to say to me. But I can’t hear the beauty. All I hear is this cacophonous yelling.
There are times when I can ignore some of the voices. And there are times when I can lower the volume on all of them. Coincidentally, this only seems to happen when I watch The Real Housewives on Bravo TV, and I am quite certain it is because it’s one of the only places where all the other screaming voices can even drown out the ones in my head.
Most of the time, I make a decision about which voices I want to turn on or off. I am realizing that the funny thing is which voices I choose to ignore.
I turn down the voice of my high school teacher, Mrs. Lehraupt, telling me that she believes I’m a talented writer.
I turn down the voice of my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Grohowski, who I can remember looking me in the eyes with his kind blue ones saying, “Kid. You’re going places.”
I turn down the quiet reassurance of my husband’s voice, when he tells me that he does believe I can write a book. That he believes I can create a successful business.
I have muted my sister’s voice saying that she believes in my ideas.
What I hear is the voice of Mrs. Williams telling me that I’m not very good. Especially not at being a third grader. I hear her words of anger as she yells at me again for not standing in the line the right way, though I could have sworn I was. I hear her yelling at me that my pants don’t really match my shirt. In all fairness, she never really said that last part, but in third grade, I wasn’t very good at coordinating my clothes, so I am sure she was thinking it.
I hear my father, who speaks with the heart of an immigrant who could not afford risk and could not afford to chase dreams saying, “You dream too big.”
I hear my husband, John’s voice and my sister’s voice, but not the positive things they have said to me. Instead I hear, “Are you going to see this through? Kiran, you never seem to finish things.” I don’t see the reassurance and encouragement in their eyes which they have shown time and time again. Instead I see that brief moment, that flicker of doubt that they could not cover up fast enough.
I hear Mrs. Buckley yelling at me in rage in the middle school hallway when I couldn’t get my books out of my locker before the bell, with an anger than didn’t seem to fit the crime as she spoke to me with clenched teeth, “Who do you think you are?”
You’re not doing it right.
Your dreams are too big for you.
You can’t see things through.
Who the HELL do you think you are?
That is what I choose to hear. Somewhere in the background, Oprah is jumping up on a on a couch really athletically and she’s yelling, “Where’s your car now, bitch?” which just seems mean-spirited and really out of character for her.
Whatever. I still hear it.
Why? Why do I choose to focus on these thoughts.
I know that I am not alone in sometimes allowing the wrong voices to influence me. I recently the heard Jon Acuff, the author of The New York Times Bestselling book Quitter, speak at a conference. Jon is an amazing, inspiring speaker and an accomplished author. He shared that in spite of this success, in spite of the fact that he has 209 beaming, admiring, praising five star reviews of his debut book on Amazon, the comments he remembers are the ones that accompany the handful of one star ratings that he has received.
Here is a man who the rest of the world would define as successful. As highly accomplished. As amazing. What he can repeat verbatim to the audience, however, is Lori Ann from San Antonio’s biting comment.
“I wouldn’t even donate this book, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for another person wasting their time reading it.”
Let me be clear. Lori Ann’s words are not a testament to his work. Acuff has been applauded by peers and is a sought after public speaker. Go read the more than two hundred plus five star comments.
You know and I know that this one comment is not a testament to his accomplishments.
He’s a New York Times Bestselling author.
He has hundreds of readers who believe his book is the best thing since sliced bread.
He knows that comment. Verbatim. Every single word of it.
He hears a stranger from San Antonio’s voice. Despite all the voices he should be hearing, he hears this charitable (or non charitable) woman’s voice.
Incredible, isn’t it?
I guess what I realize is that we all dealing with our voices. Some of us are better at it than dealing with others. Me? I really need to work on it. I am trying to figure out what voices need to go. I am trying to figure out which fragments of conversations need to be banished.
Most of all, I am trying to listen to the one voice which I seem to have been ignoring for so long.
It has a lot to say.
To Mrs. Buckley and to Mrs. Williams: “Get lost. And why, WHY did you ever teach children? For the love of all that’s holy.”
To my father, “I love you, Papa. But I choose to dream big. That’s how I roll, you see.”
To my husband John and my sister: “You are right. I have quit in the past. But I believe I can do this. I need you to remember the words from that Journey song. No, not “Any Way You Want It.” No, not “Separate Ways.” Yes. That one.”
To myself: “Let’s DO this.”
For the first time, the voice I need to hear is loud and clear.