Sounding Like Yourself

“Man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.” – Miles Davis.

(Quote brought to you by Bev & Etienne Wenger of Community of Practice fame

Wells Gray Provincial Park

I posted this quote on Linked In a couple of weeks ago as it expresses what any person seeking to establish their own voice feels as they write, sing, preach, paint or participate in any creative endeavour. Miles Davis had it right, that the goal of any of these pursuits is to sound like yourself as you express your voice.  For me, writing is one of the ways I try to sound like myself and have been pursuing this as a fledgling blogger, in academic writing, or in my personal journal writing. Other forms of writing I have engaged in make it hard to sound like yourself. Writing professional documents and letters, contract and collective agreement language, or newsletters to the school community are hard to establish your own voice in. My most triumphant success in writing so far has been a letter to the National Post when press reports about Prince William’s new girlfriend at the time and now future Queen, Kate, began to surface.  These reports mirrored exactly what had happened to William’s mother, Diana, and eventually resulted in her death in a fiery crash in a Paris tunnel as she was being pursued by a mob of paraparazzi. In my view, this was a path to destruction that society should learn from the past and not repeat.  My letter was chosen to be the letter of the day and I received my 3 minutes of fame (not quite the full 15!) with family and friends for this accomplishment. I think a key reason for this success is that I was expressing my true, inner voice on this topic.

Since this minor triumph, while building a record of my activity as an educator on my blog and getting some good marks on academic papers, I persist in my sometimes amateurish attempts to seek further fame and glory with published writing. For any aspiring scholar seeking to “get published” is a basic expectation, but between writing literature reviews as a graduate research assistant, writing and re-writing drafts of my research proposal, and my work as a sessional instructor haven’t yet had much time to pursue this with any depth.  A minor accomplishment was to co-publish an abstract of a presentation made with my colleague as part of work as research assistant so I have something at least to show for my efforts to date. Sounding like myself, however, remains an elusive target.

One my most memorable experiences with sounding like myself was being asked to conduct an interview as a part of a work-related investigation. I will never forget that the colleague who asked me to do this task said I should ask the questions, “like Glenn Borthistle” would ask the question. In other words, I was being asked to sound like myself when doing this task. What was meant by this of course is that there is a way to ask a question which elicits a non-defensive response from the rather than being accusatory which so often happens in workplace settings. Lawyers are good at choosing their voice carefully when asking questions to get a truthful answer. My task was to make sure the person felt comfortable enough that they would provide a fulsome and complete answer so that the truth would come out.  While there are clearly times to use either of these approaches requiring different voices, this was a case where sounding like myself was the better approach to get the truth out. 

In the year ahead as I finalize my research proposal and begin to write my final dissertation, I will need to sound like myself in my writing and write about uncertainty in a way which sounds like myself. My doctoral supervisor has likened the PhD odyssey to an “inner journey” which sounds an awful lot like trying to sound like myself. Miles Davis expresses well the feelings of exasperation that can occur when it takes a long time to sound like yourself.  No matter what else is tugging at my scattered attention, I need to set aside regular time for writing and most of all, not to be afraid to sound like myself!

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