Why do we censor ourselves? What’s that little voice inside that doubts before words come out? And more importantly, how do we turn it down, if not off?
Marcia Gagliardi, the inimitable and iconic San Francisco food writer extraordinaire, has been writing her Tablehopper restaurant and culture guide for 17 years. Her bold writing style, unapologetic voice, and fabulous fashion sense have inspired me since my early days in the city. Marcia is not the kind of woman to wait for someone to ask for her opinion, which is why I couldn’t wait to interview her about self-censorship and her personal journey to finding her unique voice.
Self-censorship and Finding Your Voice
There are many different reasons we engage in self-censorship: from fear of judgment to fear of consequences. Women especially have been acculturated to keep our voices down. “Don’t be too loud,” “Don’t rock the boat,” “Don’t be bossy.” But the cost of holding our words back is high.
Personally, I’ve experienced chronic physical pain (particularly throat issues) when I’ve struggled with being authentic in my words and my actions. And I’ve watched countless clients engage in so much self-judgment that when I work with them on speaking exercises, they literally can’t get a word out of their mouths. Why is this a problem?
The biggest problem with self-censorship is that if you don’t communicate yourself, then you can’t iterate your personality. You can’t engage in the creative process of being. You can’t grow.
Marcia remembers struggling to find her voice in her early days writing for other publications. “What was so challenging about writing for other publications is that I had to write for their audience.”
“I had to sometimes temper my voice or my editor would do that for me,” says Gagliardi.
She says it wasn’t until she started writing her weekly Tablehopper newsletter that she could fully write for the joy of writing. In other words, making the decision to write in her own voice set her free.
“It was very freeing to track my writing voice,” says Gagliardi. “It’s fun because when people meet me they say, ‘Oh, you write like you talk.’ That’s a very honing experience as a writer— getting to know that, yeah, this is my style.” If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Marcia, you’ll feel her style immediately. The words she puts on the page are mere extensions of her vivacious personality. She has a turn of phrase that turns heads. That’s why her writing is so good. But does she just let it all hang out, or is there still some discernment happening with what she chooses to share?
Gagliardi shares, “In terms of censorship, I mean, I do censor myself. I have some very inappropriate humor—some of that might not be ready for primetime. For example, I had one reader write to me and say, ‘Do you have to say fuck all the time?’ I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding?’”
Not everyone is going to like what you put out there. But we’re not here to be liked. We’re not here to please people. Why else are we on this planet but to express our authentic personalities so we can grow through relationships. We can’t do that if we don’t communicate who we really are.
Get clear on your why to tap into authenticity
The struggle to be real is real. Why is it so common for us to put pen to paper, or get on a stage, or turn on a video camera to do a social media post and then poof! all of a sudden we start performing? How can we stay consistent, transparent, and original even when we know people are watching?
In my experience, when the people I work with get in touch with the why behind their words, they come alive. Why do you want to say this? Why do you care so much? Getting in touch with your why puts you in service of others, and this brings you alive. Marcia has found this to be true for her writing as well.
“As a restaurant columnist, I decide my content, my point of view, my voice, my perspective, and my values. Every week, I try to curate stories that I think matter and to highlight small businesses, especially female-owned businesses, immigrant-owned businesses, and people without investors. I really look for those stories.”
When I work with clients who find it hard to be themselves, I often ask them why they care so much about what they’re saying. At first, it’s hard for them to answer, but then they find it. I love to watch the passion overtake them—like they’ve been possessed. This is authenticity. It’s about expressing what matters to you.
What to do when people come for you
Having a unique voice is not for the faint of heart. There will always be haters, and we have to learn how to be strong in the face of criticism. Marcia shares, “I often have men who come for me. I have had men who say, ’Who gave you the right to write about these businesses or who made you the expert?’ In the beginning, I would just take a step back, like, whoa where’s that coming from?” When I ask her, “What’s their intention with those comments?” She answers, “Keeping women small.” Ah yes, the patriarchy.
“People tend to prefer men male voices around food. What, women can’t be badass, swashbuckling food experts?” —Marcia Gagliardi
So what to do when people come for you? Keep the love notes handy, says Gagliardi, because you’ll need them. “You have to be your own cheerleading squad. If you’re having a rough day, or someone’s written something or you’ve been rejected for something, go to your little folder of love notes.”
Having a strong opinion, a strong voice, means that not everyone will like you. And that’s OK. What you don’t want is to have nothing to say—like Muzak in an elevator. They put Muzak in elevators because they didn’t want to incite emotions when traveling in a small metal box with strangers. That makes sense, but you DO have something to say. You wouldn’t be on this planet if you didn’t.
“I’m not going to let people dim my light.” —Marcia Gagliardi
We have to stop looking for acceptance if we expect to express our fullest selves.
Stop looking to please our audience if we want to come alive in their service.
We have to stop asking permission if we want to shed the layers of shame we have inherited from our ancestors.
I have feared being labeled as “unusual” or “weird” for most of my adult life. It’s only in the last several years that I’ve learned to lean into my independent and wild nature because I see that the price of staying small is higher than that of being judged. And it is with this more authentic expression that I am attracting opportunities more aligned with my purpose, as well as experiencing more financial success too.
In the words of the magical mistress Gagliardi, “It’s like being on a bus. Are you on the bus? Are you off the bus? If you’re going to be cranky, just get off the bus. Because in the spirit of Ken Keasey, I’m going further.”
Watch the full interview with Marcia Gagliardi here.
What holds you back from authentic self-expression? To overcome the inevitable challenges in personal and professional leadership, a coach can be an invaluable tool.
If you’re curious, get on my calendar with a free Leadership Confidence call today.
To your Confidence,
👋 P.S. When you’re ready for more…
↘️ Get my Story Map Guide and become a master storyteller so you can influence, persuade, and inspire.
❤️ Follow me on Instagram