Alex signed up for my six month group coaching cohort for communication skills, but had already missed our first group session and two of our 1:1 calls. I started to doubt her motivation and was about to write her off when she surfaced in my inbox. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy,” she wrote, listing reasons why she hadn’t shown up. Work was “crazy”, and she had a lot on her plate.
It was hard to feel empathy because I’ve heard it so many times before: the sound of mania from an overly stacked schedule. In my work as a communication skills coach, nine times out of ten, it’s my women clients who struggle to prioritize our work together. Many of them join my courses because they want to “find their voice”—and with it a newfound sense of confidence. What they often don’t expect is that they have to be present for their voice to find them.
Giulietta Octavio, DACM, is a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in San Francisco, California. She specializes in helping professional women, especially women in corporate jobs, find healing and balance in their busy lives. I sat down with Giulietta to talk about her work, self-care, and how it relates to self-expression.
“Especially in the Bay Area, it’s very common to have a completely stacked day where you have no unstructured time. That’s really a prescription for losing yourself.” —Giulietta Octavio, DACM
We all need whitespace
According to Dr. Octavio, having whitespace in your day is necessary to make sense of our world or make sense of what it is that we’re doing and whether it’s actually in service to our greater purpose. “When you have a sense of purpose, it’s different from having goals. Then that can be the way we orient the actual things we’re doing to see whether they make sense to us or not. It’s in those whitespaces that we do a lot of emotional and intellectual integration.” It’s this integration that, in turn, helps us develop our voice. How do we know this?
It’s been shown that unstructured time enhances creativity. Daydreaming, in fact, “leads to creativity, which in turn leads to agency, innovation, and the creation of an inner world”, says Darby Fox, LCSW. Without this inner world, it’s difficult to have an original thought. This leads us to freeze or stare at the ceiling looking for an answer when asked a question. If there’s no “there there” (borrowing Gertrude Stein’s expression to describe a thing that has no center point or distinctive characteristics), how can we find the words to express it?
Get curious about who you are
The phrase “finding your voice”, by its nature, suggests a search. That means we must be willing to do the work of exploring ourselves in order to express ourselves. “Finding your voice is about having the freedom to find out what you like or don’t like,” says Octavio. “In that there’s enough freedom to have experimentation, that we’re not just doing. We’re not just on track, but we’re actually being curious.”
“Finding your voice is about having the freedom to find out what you like or don’t like.” —Giulietta Octavio, DACM
Why is it important to be curious about who we are so we can find our voice? “Having the freedom or giving yourself the freedom to experiment and play a little bit helps you self-geolocate in your own identity, and once you’ve located yourself, it’s much easier to speak from that place.”
When you’re grounded in who you are as a person, when you have core values, or sense of purpose, then you can speak from that place with authority in a way that no one else can. Take, for example, Greta Thurnberg, the Swedish environmental activist.
It’s clear Thurnberg is speaking from her values. “What’s interesting about her,” says Octavio, “is that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is unusual for a woman. In some ways, she’s unburdened by empathy, particularly the empathy training that a lot of women get to always be concerned about how other people feel and what other people think about what they’re doing. So this allows her to be completely self-oriented.” It helps her tune into her values and speak from that place.
Stop being so productive
The problem with always focusing on being productive is that you’re not a machine. You need down time because without giving yourself the gift of whitespace, you’re not connected to the bigger narrative of your life and your purpose. “When we have those spaces, where we can go for a walk, or do a little bit of yoga, or sit quietly or whatever it is that’s our jam,” says Octavio, “where there’s a sense of nothingness or where we’re uncoupled from being useful and we’re actually totally useless… In those spaces, is where we start to make sense of what it is that we’re doing and whether it’s actually in service to our greater purpose.”
“In those spaces, is where we start to make sense of what it is that we’re doing and whether it’s actually in service to our greater purpose.”—Giulietta Octavio, DACM
Give yourself space
Creativity is how your soul expresses itself. By not giving yourself time and space to connect to yourself and what makes you curious, you’re essentially short-circuiting your expression.
Take the time to get to know yourself. Finding your voice is not something you add to a to do list. It’s not something you just tick off. What we’re talking about is meaning and purpose. Finding your voice is about knowing who you are, why you’re here, and what you’re going to do about it.
If you want to find your voice, stop over planning your life and your schedule. Allow yourself to wander, to daydream, to not be productive. Get curious about yourself and what matters to you. Once you’ve found that, you’ll find your voice waiting for you on the other side.
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If you struggle to communicate your value, or just want to feel more confident when speaking in front of groups, check out our women’s group coaching cohort here.