On the last day of class of my final year in college, my screenwriting teacher, Kris Young, (who I swear is the reincarnation of Confucius because of his wisdom) takes a breast pump out from his bag and places it on the table. Now, I don't really know how those things work, but he instructs us to be quiet as he hits the 'ON' switch, which then fills the room with a low mechanical hum. After a confused couple of minutes, he turns it off and tells us to say what we heard.
The actual answers didn't matter. What mattered was that WE ALL HEARD SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
And so the last thing I learned in college, which I still remember to this day, was not about all the technicalities of creativity. It was the fact that WE ALREADY HAVE A UNIQUE VOICE, and the best thing we can do as artists is to stay true to it.
The problem is we don't realize or forget that we already have what it takes, and I admit it is easy to forget when you're constantly being critiqued by those around you.
So how do we re-discover our voice among all this noise?
The first thing that comes to my mind is to tell you to immediately turn off your computer, buy a plane ticket, and go somewhere you've never been before, but I know that wouldn't work, at least not yet. Before I start offering suggestions, let's talk about why "finding yourself" is so difficult in the first place.
We are social beings. Our identities are formed not just by the DNA that has been passed onto us, but also by the environment that we grew up in. Now, we know that we are individuals and we can differentiate between “I” and “You,” but much of our identity is actually a reflection of other people. Think about it, we play basketball because our friends play basketball, and we find a job, get married and have children because that's what everybody else is doing. "If they are this way, then I should be this way." We go with the flow because human beings naturally take the path of least resistance. Plus, it feels good to have a sense of belonging. Why cause a ruckus by quitting your job and telling all your friends that you're sick of capitalism and would rather live on a farm out in some remote location in Europe? (ahem*)
It can become difficult to live in a community and maintain a sense of individuality. This issue is precisely why fashion is so popular. It's the easiest way to appear different (despite the fact that in reality, we all know you bought that sweater at American Apparel, hipster!). But I digress…
We already have a unique voice, but when we're trying to find the balance between fitting in and still being an individual, our voice can often get misplaced. There are usually millions of different voices swimming inside our heads telling us what we should and should not do. When this happens, we must relocate it by removing all other voices by... you guessed it, changing your surroundings (don't buy your plane ticket yet, but start thinking about where to go).
Change your surroundings. Travel. It is only through traveling and deliberately placing yourself in an unfamiliar environment that allows you to finally see yourself clearly. A cat among a pack of dogs. Because you are in a new environment, free from the pressure and expectations from before, you can do what you want. You can have a fresh start. The interesting part that then helps you re-discover who you are is what you hold onto in this new environment, and what you let go. Finally, through spending time in a different place, and “trying on” new identities like how you try on a new sweater, you get to look back and see how far you've come. By making the effort to find yourself, you can now compare your new self with the old.
Our identity can then be thought of as pieces of luggage. What do I need? What can I leave? What did I think I need but actually didn't? What made my trip worse? What did I forget to bring that would've made my trip better? And lastly, what are the things I absolutely could not live without?
Through this long journey that can last for an entire lifetime, we can finally return home with what is most important to our essential self, which is, of course, our true self.
by Jason Lam