Find Your Voice: A Guide for Teens

A few weeks, I gave a speech to an all-girls high school in Pasadena entitled Finding Your Voice. I had never addressed an audience of 350 girls before and I was nervous. So I did what I always do on a project: I outlined the speech; I wrote it out longform; and I rehearsed it for an audience of one: my dog. She gave me some good notes.

Many people asked for the highlights of the speech I mentioned on my podcast Satellite Sisters, so here are my five key talking points for Finding Your Voice:

Speak Up
Start now in class—raise your hand, speak up, really work on your oral reports. Get good at speaking up in public even it scares you.
Being confident in speaking in public is the greatest gift you can give yourself. There’s no career you can name where being great at presenting to a group isn’t an asset.

How? Start small. Truly. Learn to tell a great story to your friends. When your parents ask you what happened at school today, actually tell them what happened at school today. Beginning, Middle, End. It’s called storytelling.

Being a natural is bogus. I used to practice my dinner table stories when I was younger by talking at the mirror in the bathroom. I still practice. I did this speech all the way through this morning while I was walking the dog. You need to do the work to be a natural– but it’s worth it if you start now to gain confidence in the sound of your own voice.

Look Up
There is a lot of information in your devices. But look up, because all the answers are really out here. Observing people and the world around you is the key to really understanding what you are reading, learning, studying. Connecting the dots between information and observation is what gives you your unique point of view.

There is nothing I love doing more than sitting alone in a hotel lobby watching people coming and going. Or an airport. Or waiting for the train. As a novelist, I eavesdrop for a living.

I think technology is magic. I think it can connect you to the entire world and you have the option to create blogs and Instagram accounts and podcasts that can let you have a say without gatekeepers.  But there is also a value in interacting and engaging with the world right in front of you. The information on your phone will always be there. The moment is fleeting.

Look up! The adventure is happening out there. Don’t let your devices stand between you and true interaction.

Be Authentic

I’m reminded of the episode of Friends—and I believe most important life lessons can be found in Friend’s episode- where Ross gives his first lecture at college with a British accent because he thinks it makes him sound smarter. Of course, the gang busts him and then it all unravels over the course of the episode. But let’s face it, we are all Ross. We’ve all been tempted to whip out a British accent from time to time to sound smarter.

I think what holds us back is that we think we have to be the smartest person in the room. That we have to have all the answers. Like if we don’t know it all, we shouldn’t say anything at all.

But it’s okay just to know what you know. Be true to the things you truly love—pandas or music or literature or sports. You can build on your knowledge base, but speak up passionately about the topics you are passionate about.

I think discovering your authenticity lets you focus on the things that really matter to you. And maybe when you have to make really hard decisions, knowing what really matters to you deep inside will help you make those decisions for your future: college, major and beyond.

Support the Arts

This is where I make my plug to all of you to support the arts—books, films, fine art in galleries and museums, theater, dance. Why? What does supporting the arts have to do with finding your voice?

When you are trying to figure out who you are and what you stand for, you often you find clues in books or films or music that speaks to you in a special way. Or it’s a painting at museum or a ballet that touches you. You see yourself reflected in art and that is powerful. And reassuring.

As a teenager, I read everything from Little Women to The World According to Garp. Discovering Elvis Costello & REM and saturating myself with the Go Go’s and Madonna. Taking the train into New York and seeing A Chorus Line for the first time was life-changing.

For your generation, maybe it’s an Awkwafina YouTube video. Or the Dear Evan Hansen Soundtrack. Or Hermione. Or that adorable movie on Netflix—To All the Boys I’ve Loved.

Up until this point, maybe your parents have had to drag you to a play or you think of museums as places only old people go. That’s okay. But you’re old enough to discover the magic all on your own now. And supporting the arts is a habit that you can starts acquiring now and make it a lifelong habit. You never outgrow the need to keep readjusting your authenticity—and plays, music, painting, books—they keep you reaching for answers.

We live in place that is bursting with great arts. Make it a habit to go to plays or see your favorite author speak at Vroman’s or free museum night in Pasadena. With your parents’ permission, venture into DTLA and beyond to stay engaged and open up your eyes.

Supporting the arts can become a life- long habit—and one you will never regret spending your time and energy on.

Listen to Other Voices
Along the way to finding your own voice, you going to encounter people who think very differently than you, look very differently than you. Let’s face it—maybe they just bug you and you don’t know why but they drive you crazy.

Here’s the truth about listening to other voices. This is a school with a supportive environment where sisterhood is strong. You can feel that. And still, as you look around, there are girls in this room you don’t agree with, you don’t get—or maybe you just don’t know yet. But you still need to support each other because you never know when you’re going to need that person. Maybe you’ll work together on a project and she’ll bring an expertise that you don’t have. Maybe you’ll play together on team or run an event together and find out you have more in common than you think. At your 10th High School reunion, the person you like least in this room may be the person you have the most in common with, because that’s the way life works.

As a grown woman, I can tell you this: we need each other. We need to support each other and listen to each other. We don’t always need to like each other. We may never be best friends. But the girls sitting in this room are the greatest support team you’ll ever have. And as you move through high school, college, first jobs and beyond into marriage motherhood and or whatever else your life may bring you, you will need to rely on the women around you time and time again.

So start now by listening and standing up for each other—even if you don’t agree with each other.

Want to listen to the entire Satellite Sisters podcast? Find the podcast here.