We listen to a lot of voices in our lives. Maybe it’s time we started listening to our own.
As I’ve shared before, I live in an old Victorian house on the edge of downtown Milwaukee. This area is collectively known as the Lower East Side.
The East Side of Milwaukee has to be one of America’s most beautiful neighborhoods. The quaint shops of Brady Street; cerulean Lake Michigan, with its many moods; historic churches and shops, their architecture still resplendent in the flourish of bygone days. Several years ago it was honored as one of America’s top ten most artistic neighborhoods. And with this sort of atmosphere, is it any wonder?
I love my neighborhood with a fierce devotion. Every little alley and byway is precious to me. Over the years, I’ve captured many of their beauties on camera.
Usually when I snap such photos, I’m motivated by something that’s right in front of me. The detail catches my eye, or the scene unfolds, and out comes my iPhone, quicker than you can say, “Cream City.”
But lately, I’ve noticed something interesting about this familiar ritual.
The moments I capture through my lens are typically something I saw. The subject had to be present before me, and catch my attention, before I thought to pull out my camera.
While this might not sound unusual, to me it demonstrates a heavy reliance on the tangible, the obvious. If it’s not in front of me, I’m not going to see it, much less photograph it.
What if I could turn that sequence on its head?
Thanks to my ever-amazing creative coach Victoria Prozan, I’ve been feasting on wise words from some amazing writers who have already changed my life and creative practice. The most recent is Tara Sophia Mohr’s mind-breaking Playing Big, which presents a counterintuitive, inward-guided path toward letting go of the fears that keep us “playing small” in our lives, work and creativity.
Mohr argues that American women in particular have been liberated, but not empowered.
We’ve been told that mentors, advice columnists, coaches and other outside voices are the path to the corner office, the book deal, or any other leadership aspiration we may harbor. What we haven’t been taught to do is look inward to what Mohr calls “The Inner Mentor.” Typically this Mentor is a vision of who our most authentic self desires to become. It takes time and practice to surface our vision of her, but that vision is already deep within us.
From there, Mohr narrates her own story about meeting her Inner Mentor and letting that voice guide her decisions. The results—and those of coaching clients she’s worked with since—have taken her and them measurably closer to the woman they want to become.
This was not an entirely new concept to me; I’ve known for a long time that there’s this “other woman” within me that I desire to become. But I hand’t thought of making her an active part of my process. Now that I’ve begun to think about things in this new light, I realize my Inner Mentor has more to say about the world than just what direction I should head when the next tough decision comes along.
What if she also has guidance for every day creative decisions: this ribbon, or that one? This panel composition, or that one?
This photographic subject … or that one? The one I can’t quite see yet?
And so it happened that I found myself walking through a local park this past week, when I paused to admire a sanctuary of mums, clusters adoringly around a leaf-festooned statues. The picture, for me, was the epitome of Autumn. I pulled out my camera to snap a distance shot that captured the whole scene . . .
And that’s when my Inner Mentor showed up.
“Go closer,” she whispered. “Over there.”
I walked forward, propelled by a force I didn’t quite understand.
“No, not that way,” she remonstrated. “That way. Closer still. There. Yes.”
“Now look into the flower bed. What do you see?”
The whole time this exchange was happening, I had one of those vague, out-of-body moments wherein I realized I was acting on a voice inside, stepping forward to find a picture my mind was telling me was there, but which I could not yet see. I thought this while I was doing it.
It felt both strange and exhilarating. I knew something would be there.
I peered into the portion of the flower bed where my mind had nudged me to look.
This is what I saw.
No picture or words can describe my unutterable joy at the sight of this marvelous, precious little leaf balanced on the shoulders of the mums around it. It seemed perfectly at ease: light, almost floating, as if it were unshakably certain the flowers would always hold it up.
The flowers, for their part, seemed all the more noble for the careful duty they were performing.
I snapped and snapped away, vaguely aware that my Inner Mentor had guided me to this snippet of beauty with a confidence that it was actually there, even when I couldn’t see it. I was the leaf, floating on the strong shoulders of the most authentic, knowing, loving voice within me.
To say this felt eerie would be an understatement. It also felt empowering.
The pictures I took of that little leaf have since become among my favorite I have ever taken. There is something about the colors, the energy, the composition that I could not have manufactured in a thousand over-managed attempts. Neither would I ever have found this beautiful little vignette if I had not listened inward to my own voice, nudging my creativity in the direction it should go.
There’s something to this Inner Voice, for sure. Maybe I should open up to her more often as I stroll around my neighborhood?
After all, I think I know what’s there because I can see it.
Time to see look with deeper eyes.