finding your voice in the new year.

Although it’s probably just my ambitious ego, I like to think I have a third ear for music.  I was sitting in a friends living room recently while his iTune’s Genius was mixing us some tunes.  There were some songs playing that I had never heard before and the occasional beat would steal my attention from the conversation.  Although some of the music was unfamiliar, I was able to pin the artist(s) within just a few seconds once they started singing.

Michael Stipe, REM, Voice, Spit and Mud, New Years

Michael Stipe - Image Courtesy Wikimedia

Whether his Genius mix played Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, The Avett Brothers, U2 or REM, I really didn’t need to know their whole catalog to identify who the band was.  It’s because their lead singer uses an instrument unlike any other: their voice.

It’s been about 3 months since the news first broke on their website, that REM is calling it quits.   Even for the non-fan, this group has been prolific enough to have several recognizable (if commercial) hits, from “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” to “Losing My Religion”.  However, more than just the tune itself, their songs are lent that same unclear, (some say mumbling) yet distinguishable voice of Michael Stipe.

Be it Bono, Robert Plant, Joe Cocker or John Fogerty, Janis Joplin, Annie Lenox and Karin Bergquist the voices of each define a unique experience for the song.

It’s been said that cover bands don’t change the world.  There’s a lot of things about a song that can be imitated, from the guitar solo to the cadence of the snare drum.  The one element that will never be completely duplicated are the voices.  There is just too much nuance, too much subtlety embedded in their vocal chords.  Their isn’t a voice like it in the past and their will not be one in the future.

Maybe singing isn’t your thing.  Simon Cowell has helped a lot of people discover that about themselves.  He’s also done a favor to many by encouraging them to find their own voice.  If someone was trying to sound too much like Britney, he would let them know.  Who would want to anyway?

In your context or vocation, there may not be a Cowell to steer you in another direction if you’re trying to sound too much like someone else.

No, you may never paint a masterpiece, write a bestseller or compete in the Olympics.  Maybe you teach kids to swim.  Maybe you direct social media for a small start-up.  Perhaps you preach every weekend to a congregation or write blog posts as a hobby.  No matter what you do, you have a voice that is inimitable.  No one accentuates words like you.  No one gives expression to their thoughts in the same way you do.  No one articulates their passions in the same manner.

I used to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the kids ministries of other churches.  I would peruse their websites, go to their conferences and follow the blogs of their leaders.  I’m glad for their influence and their individuality but I am learning to find and celebrate my voice too.  Sometimes it’s raspier than theirs, sometimes not as refined or amplified but that’s ok.

The world already has its Michael Stipe and Robert Plant.  It already had its Shakespeare and it’s da Vinci.  We’ve heard from Billy Graham and Gandhi.  Now we need to hear from you and you need to hear from us.

5 social media schedulers and why you need one.

Small businesses, large corporations and now churches are engaging the world through social media.  If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest country.  Social media has forever changed how you broadcast your message.  The question is no longer “if or why you should utilize social media” but “how most effectively and efficiently can you?”

Consider that from the combined 1 billion+ Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn users, a majority of your congregation, classroom, denomination or audience is jacked in.  This is where social media schedulers come in.

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in celebration of blogging: my 50th post.

This is kind of a big deal: my 50th post in the 5th month since I started.  I can’t think of a better thing to write about than ‘writing’ itself.

This whole thing has always been cathartic for me.  I enjoy finding just the right words to express what I’m thinking and feeling and then emptying myself of them.  What is not cathartic (and downright stressful) is attempting to publicly legitimize my thoughts as actually interesting.  A pen-and-paper journal would have been much safer.  I’ve always felt trapped by the opinions of others, so exposing my thoughts on the internet has not been an exercise in comfort, to say the least.  I would still consider myself an intrinsically and categorically ‘guarded person’ in this regard.

Todd Henry points out that “It is human nature to default to the path of least resistance.”  It’s not necessarily hard to type some words on a screen.  It is hard to suffer the fear of misinterpretation which in turn spurs the need for disclaimers and increased verbiage.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I would write shorter posts but I just don’t have the time.  I’m not saying all of this for pity or empathy.  I’m actually trying to say that blogging has been good for me.  If resistance is a hallmark of progress, then I must be growing.

It’s been good because I’ve encountered the styles and disciplines of others.  I think of writers like Seth Godin, marketing guru and imminent blogger whose influence across so many flavors of business is astounding.  His posts average around 175 words and he get’s about 500,000 page views a day.  I think of Jonathan Martin, a modern-day Thomas Merton but with swag, who writes in the neighborhood of 1,000 words per post.  He defies convention and creates loyal followers at the same time.

I just had a conversation with fellow blogger Sarah DeShields about how our vocations/professions can manifest themselves via blogs.  They have all helped me to understand that my individuality is far more important than following some writing rules.

What has surprised me (even when it shouldn’t have) is the evolution of my need to accelerate my readership.  I didn’t start out on this journey thinking of platform, SEO, RSS feeds, tagging keywords, short-links, monetization and so on.  Is this the tyranny of perfectionism rearing its ugly head or just the inevitable fork in the road for all bloggers?

It’s funny how bloggers are like all creatives, keeping a shroud of secrecy around the unfinished work until a moment of unveiling.  Then we expect instant fans.  It’s like a writer before the book is published or a musician with an album coming out or a preacher who’s prepared a sermon.  Is it the product that attracts us or the process?  Yes.  Do I write about what I do or who I am?  Yes.

So to resist the secrecy and risk transparency, here are some of my stats so far: as of this writing my all time page views are 2,671, my busiest month was November with 509 views and my busiest day was November 9th, when I posted ‘sweet [baby] coen james‘ with exactly 100 views that day.  Contributing to the busyness of that post was the addition of pictures which each added to the total views.  My most popular post is ‘my wife + the gift of mercy = leadership‘ with 130 views.  Fittingly, it’s my most poignant post to date.

I have a running joke with my boss Tracey Rouse, who just started her own blog (fantastic by the way).  The joke essentially revolves around us tossing out our page views and how she’s pretty much stomped my numbers without even trying.  Next to guys like Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt, we’re small potatoes but that’s not the point.  The point is to keep writing because it’s a good thing.  If you’ve read this far and there’s an itch of creativity within you, please stop waiting any further and start scratching.

Resist the ping, power through the dip and find your space.  Here’s to the next 50 posts.