Finding Your Unique Voice | Elizabeth Gilbert, Morgan Harper Nichols & Lisa Congdon

What does it truly mean to find your voice? Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, an entrepreneur, professional, leader, or parent or really just any human being, finding that voice within you that is uniquely yours is a powerful moment. And, an unlock key. Both personally, and professionally.

It fuels your ability to step into work and life from a place of not just technical skill, but also something deeper. A sense of uniqueness, differentiation, and aliveness that exists only in you, and that can impact not only your life, but also those around you, those you serve, and those you seek to serve.

But, before you can have this level of impact, you’ve got to do the work to discover that unique voice within you, that take on the world that you and only you have, then find a way to bring it to everything you do. And, in so doing, experience those powerful moments where something you imagined into existence sparked not just admiration for the work, but true expression and emotion within you. Where your own sense and sensibility seemed reflected in what you made. Those flashes of authentic self-expression, where you’ve identified your unique voice and set it free, can make life so much richer.,

I’ve spoken with iconic makers, creatives, teachers, and entrepreneurs, at all stages of their journey – from those just starting out to those running marathons with their creativity for decades. And through our conversations, common themes arise again and again around how to find, foster and share your unique voice.

We wanted to share a selection of moments, ideas and awakening from a few deeply-moving conversations we’ve had over the years with some incredible, big-hearted, and wise creative humans as they reflect on their creative journeys with wisdom and vulnerability, how they found their voices. Today we’re sharing part of our conversations with mega-bestselling author, Elizabeth Gilbert, artist and author Lisa Congdon, who didn’t become and artist and find her voice until later in life, and poet, musician, and artist, Morgan Harper Nichols. Each approaches the idea of finding your voice from a different angle, yet together their insights reveal universal truths about curiosity, openness and owning one’s own experience.

So whether you’re pushing through creative plateaus or just beginning to find your way, I hope this conversation sparks new questions and possibilities for your own journey towards a voice that is uniquely yours. Dive in and discover what awaits within you, just waiting for an opportunity to emerge.

You can find Elizabeth Gilbert at: Website | Instagram | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Elizabeth

You can find Morgan Harper Nichols at: Website | Instagram | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Morgan

You can find Lisa at: Website | Instagram | The Lisa Congdon Sessions | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Lisa

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Photo Credit: Christopher Dibble, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

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Episode Transcript:

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:00:00) – The universe is looking for collaborators, baby. It’s a universe that is becoming and it needs help. And it wants to work with you. It wants to be made. And a creative life is a life where you routinely choose the path of curiosity over the path of fear. Not like twice or three times or four times, but daily. Systematically. It becomes your habit and your practice to say, I don’t even know why I’m interested in this, but I’m interested in this and I’m going to look into it.

Jonathan Fields (00:00:29) – So what is it truly mean to find your voice? Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, an entrepreneur or professional leader or parent, or really just any human being. Finding that voice within you that is uniquely yours is a powerful moment and an unlucky, both personally and professionally. It fuels your ability to step into work in life from a place of not just technical skill or domain expertise, but also something deeper, a sense of uniqueness, differentiation and aliveness that exists only in you, and that can impact not only your life, but also those around you, those you serve and those you seek to serve.

Jonathan Fields (00:01:07) – But before you can have this level of expression and impact, you’ve got to do the work to discover that unique voice within you that take on the world that you and only you have, and then find a way to bring it to everything that you do. And in doing so, experience those powerful moments where something you imagined into existence sparked not just admiration for the work, but true expression and emotion within you, where your own sense and sensibility seems reflected in what you made. Those flashes of authentic self-expression where you’ve identified your unique voice and set it free. They can make life so much richer. So I have spoken with iconic makers, creators, teachers and entrepreneurs at all stages of their journey from those just starting out to those running marathons with their creativity for decades and through our conversations, common themes arise again and again about how to find foster and share your unique voice. So we wanted to share a selection of those moments, ideas and awakenings from a few deeply moving conversations that we’ve had over the years with some genuinely incredible, big hearted and wise, creative humans as they reflect on their creative journeys with wisdom and vulnerability about how they found their unique voices.

Jonathan Fields (00:02:22) – And today, we’re sharing part of our conversations with mega bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, author and artist Lisa Congdon, who didn’t actually become an artist and find her voice until later in life. And poet, musician and artist Morgan Harper Nichols Each approaches the idea of finding your voice from a different angle. Yet together, their insights reveal universal truths about curiosity, openness and owning one’s own experience. So whether you’re pushing through creative plateaus or just beginning to find your way, I hope that these conversations spark new questions and possibilities for finding your own journey towards a voice that is uniquely yours. So excited to share these conversations with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. So our first guest, Elizabeth Gilbert, believes creativity is a collaboration between humans and something greater. Liz is a number one New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, and so many other books. She shares her perspective on nurturing creativity. She sees simple curiosity as the root of all creativity. And for her, a creative life means choosing a path of curiosity over fear on a daily basis.

Jonathan Fields (00:03:36) – And our conversation with Liz dives into the creative process from managing self-doubt to caring for our physical needs, to show up for our creativity, to viewing inspiration as a collaborator that needs our labor and devotion to manifest. And she reveals how intimacy with our own authentic life stories fuels the emotional power within our creative work. So whether you’re an artist struggling to make space for creation or just a human being seeking techniques to overcome creative block, Liz’s Insights offer a wisdom and inspiration to unleash your own untold stories waiting to be shared with the world. So here’s Liz.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:04:11) – When I see creative work that’s original and it’s really well made, I admire it the way that you admired that view and that beautiful room. And you just of course, you admire it. It’s very well done. You know, you just stand there and you think it’s really well, it’s cool how you did that. I admire. I admire your work. But when you encounter creative work, that’s really emotionally authentic. It’s it moves you. And I don’t want to just be walking around admiring stuff.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:04:41) – I want to feel my humanity. I want to feel my own life reflected in your life. I want to feel moved and touched and stirred. And the work might not be as good. That is as polished as professional, but it’ll probably like change me in a way that looking at something that’s just very accurately done will not. I was having a conversation with my friend Rob Bell. You know him? Pastor Bell, the greatest, greatest, greatest guy about this the other day. And he was saying one of the things he thinks stops people from indulging because that’s the word they seem to feel in their pure creativity for no reason whatsoever, is that they feel like it’s selfish and that they are sort of taking something away from the world by devoting that time to this thing. But he made this great point that I had never seen before, and now I wish I could put it in a codex at the end of Big Magic because it is the big magic. He said. And the few opportunities in your life where you’ve ever had the chance to meet a creative person who inspired you.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:05:41) – You know, like, what was the first thing you said to them? Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. The first thing when I met Tom Waits, the first thing I said to him was, I don’t even know how to thank you for your work. And meanwhile, I’m buying it with my money. I’m subsidizing his life. Right? So he, like, really, he should be thanking me, right? Because I’m the consumer who’s making it possible for him to live off his music. But we all know that it’s me who has to be thanking him because of watching somebody do something so great made my life better. And so if you can permit yourself to do the work that you’re being called to do, it’s ultimately a gift in a in a really weird way. I met Hilary Mantel the other day, who wrote Wolf Hall, my favorite book. You know, I’m on my knees practically thanking her for that work. Why? What did she do for me? She didn’t even know me.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:06:38) – But by watching somebody live at their highest, most creative, most magnificent potential, my world was a better world. So use that as a justification to do the thing that you’re called to do. It’s an act of community service.

Jonathan Fields (00:06:52) – Yeah, it resonates so strongly with me.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:06:55) – I have such a simple definition of creativity and I often hear people say, I don’t have a creative bone in my body. It’s a cliche that you hear people say, it’s like it’s an expression, it’s a thing people say. And and I always say to them, like, I don’t want to fight you about that. I totally disagree. I believe if you’re alive and you’re a human being, you’re a creative being. It’s the hallmark of our species where the creative monkey. But okay, I’m not going to try to fight you on that. What I will do, though, is ask you to take the word creative out of that sentence and replace it with the word curious and see how insane that sentence sounds when you say, I do not have a curious bone in my body.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:07:31) – Whoever said that, that’s not a thing anybody would ever say unless they were really in the jaws of a terrible, debilitating, serious depression. If you’re at all alive, if you have any vitality at all, of course you have curiosity in you. And the way that you craft a creative life is by respecting, following and trusting that curiosity and curiosity only asks you to just turn your head and look a little closer and see if it’s worth investigating and go a little deeper into it and see what it is. And on the other side, the sort of split the fork in the road is always going to be the thing that makes you curious and the thing that makes you scared. And a creative life is a life where you routinely choose the path of curiosity over the path of fear. Not like twice or three times or four times, but daily.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:17) – Rarely, systematically.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:08:18) – Systematically. It becomes your habit and your practice to say, I don’t even know why I’m interested in this, but I’m interested in this and I’m going to look into it.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:27) – Have you developed any practices that you feel like they help you make that systematic choice day after day after day after day after day?

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:08:36) – You know, I feel like if I and I don’t always succeed at this, like I certainly haven’t succeeded this in the last two weeks. But generally speaking, I know this about myself. I know that if I can take care of what I call my animal and my animal is the human body that I’m in, which is just an animal body, it’s a mammal and it’s warm blooded and it’s a female mammal. Like it has all these characteristics of the female of the species. It’s a 46 year old female homosapien, right? It’s an it, which is the animal that I am, right? Because we are. And then inside of that animal, for reasons that none of us will ever know, there’s a supercomputer that not another animal on Earth has. Right. We have that crazy. We’re aware of our awareness. We have that consciousness. We have sparks of divinity within us.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:09:27) – We’ve got all this extra features, but all of that is the software. Yeah, the hardware is just like these bones, these muscles, this digestive system, you know, this animal. And if I can first and foremost, take care of that animal and make sure that that animal is treated as I would treat any animal in my care, that it gets a soft place to sleep and healthy food and nice walks in the sunshine and that it’s not being traumatized or abused or stressed or hurt in any way or being pushed beyond what it can do. Like if I had a like if I had a horse, I wouldn’t work it till it collapsed in the saddle. If I had a dog, I wouldn’t beat it, you know, like I wouldn’t I would take care of it. It would be my responsibility. So if I can take care of the animal that Liz lives in, then the supercomputer functions really well and the supercomputer and the consciousness, once the animal is taken care of, will know what to do next and it will make good decisions and it will make the most interesting decisions and the most creative decisions and the most worthwhile decisions.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:10:39) – So the practice is really like. Are you healthy? Because none of the other stuff is going to work if the animal that you live in is just a broke down nose, You know, and and I say that saying that I don’t always do it. I’m really busy. I have a book coming out in a week. I’ve been traveling. I’m tired. My animals run down right now. And I know that when that happens, I don’t believe a word my mind tells me because when my animal gets really tired, my mind is a big liar. The committee.

Jonathan Fields (00:11:11) – Reconvenes.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:11:11) – When the committee starts saying like, there’s no point, there’s no purpose, don’t you know? So so that’s the practice. And I’ve had to learn that, though I look, I’ve learned it by the school of hard knocks. I’ve learned it by treating myself like a rented mule and then losing my creativity, losing my inspiration, losing my faith, losing my certainty. So that’s it, man. Starts there and then everything else will be much easier.

Jonathan Fields (00:11:36) – You speak of inspiration as if it exists outside of the individual and you also speak about ideas as if they exist outside the individual, as if they’re sort of floating around, you know, like their own independent animals looking to become I think your language is manifest through the vehicle of people. And it was interesting. I’m reading that from you. I had a chance to sit down with Steve Pressfield a couple of years back, and we were talking about this over some organic pancakes in a cafe in Santa Monica. And because.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:12:09) – Of course, they were organic. Of course, if it was a cafe in Santa Monica, you didn’t have to say organic reduction.

Jonathan Fields (00:12:18) – So yeah, because his his idea of the muse is that it exists outside of you and that, you know, with, you know, your job is to show up every day and to do the work and to prove to the muse that you are worthy. And I was saying to him, I was like I said, that’s on the one hand, that’s terrifying to me because you’re acknowledging that the genius is not in you.

Jonathan Fields (00:12:41) – You’re just a vehicle, which means you have no control over that. And he says, Yeah, but but here’s the flip side of this. He’s like, you know, it’s also really freeing because then your job is not to come up with the awesome stuff. It’s just to sit down and prove that you’re worthy and do the work. And I was like, Huh? I never really kind of thought about it that way. And then I stumbled upon your lens on ideas in the ether, you know, sort of like looking for people, looking.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:13:09) – For the universe is looking for collaborators. Maybe it’s a universe that is becoming and it needs help and it wants to work with you. It wants to be made. And and for me, the reason that is not a scary idea is because I don’t ascribe to a sort of narrow view of the muse that says, I mean, I think that the two ways that artists are usually given to look at their work as either you are the servant of the muse, right? You’re just a hand puppet or you are dominating that thing.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:13:40) – Like Nabokov said, when somebody said to him, Do your characters ever take lives of your own? He’s like, Of course they don’t. They’re galley slaves, you know, which is so him, which is so like, so Nabokov. It’s just like it all comes from me. And I’m in charge, right? And I love him, and that’s great. And that’s how he did stuff. And the other alternative is the super hippie, trippy way, which is very passive, which is, you know, has no muscle in it, which just says like, Well, I guess I just have to wait here for this thing to happen to me. And the truth is, I don’t think it’s either one of those options. For me, the reason that that idea is so terribly exciting is because it’s a partnership. It’s a collaboration between a human being’s labor and the mysteries of inspiration. You bring the labor and the devotion and the faith and the trust. The inspiration will do what it wants, but it can’t work with you if you’re not already working.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:14:27) – And you can work even without inspiration. You know, like most of my life is me sitting there just sort of slogging through it like a farmer and not being particularly satisfied with the results, but knowing that I’m showing up for my side of the contract, for my side of the deal. I said I was going to do this, I’m going to do this. And then months into the project, there will come a day when suddenly there’s air underneath me, you know, and I’m not doing it anymore. It’s I’m being given information that’s coming from I don’t know where I look back at what I wrote. There’s pages of the novel, the signature of all things, the last book that I wrote that I go back and look at it. I have no recollection of having written it. I can honestly say I don’t know where that came from, but I spent four years doing research on botany and evolution and Darwinism, and I read like thousands, literally thousands of books. I was at my desk every morning at 6:00 working.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:15:18) – So when I say I don’t know where it came from, I kind of do know it came from my devotion. But there’s another level of it that came from somewhere else because I know the difference between something that’s coming from me and something that’s coming through me. And what I live for are those moments when something comes through me. But for that to happen, I have to have a lot of hours in the can of stuff just coming out of me now. And then I reached the end of myself and there’s something else there. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:47) – And that is a whole lot of faith.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:15:50) – It’s the best game in town. It’s the best game in town. There’s no other way. I would rather live my life. It’s the greatest. It’s the greatest privilege. And one of the reasons I get annoyed when creative people start to get really complaining is that I just think, Where’s your gratitude for the fact that you get to even do this? That you get to even try, that you get to even try.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:16:15) – There are millions of people in the world who have virtually no agency over their lives whatsoever, and you’re lucky enough that you live in a world where you have even a tiny little bit of agency and you get to use it to interact with inspiration, which is the weirdest, most fascinating force in the universe. And all you want to do is be mad. All you want to do is be mad at it. Where’s your gratitude? This is a really interesting thing that you get to do. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting or it wasn’t worthy.

Jonathan Fields (00:16:46) – That’s a powerful place to come from.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:16:48) – That’s just me preaching.

Jonathan Fields (00:16:53) – So we’ll come full circle, I think, just spinning off of the exploration of gratitude. So the name of This is Good Life Project. So if I offer that term out to you to live a good life, what bubbles up?

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:17:04) – To show up for it, you know, And showing up for it for me means. Really having the discipline to stay awake and alert and responsive.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:17:19) – And I think that’s the highest form of prayer in a way, is to say, for reasons that none of us will ever know. God trusted me enough to put a life in my hands, and it was my own thought I could do it. God was like, I’m going to give this bozo a life to take care of and to curate, you know, and to curate and to create and to come into being. And I’m going to throw all sorts of obstacles at this life and see how you decide to puzzle them out and sort of setbacks and failures and disappointments. And let’s see if you can get through the whole thing without becoming embittered. I feel like that’s one of the most interesting challenges in the world. Like, hey, what if you went through the whole life and by the end of it you weren’t bitter despite whatever happened or didn’t happen? That’s pretty cool. That’s a really interesting way to live. Most interesting choice that you could possibly make is I’m not going to let this turn me sour and dark and small, but instead think of it as just another opportunity to learn and grow and be.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:18:27) – That’s a good life, you know, And it has nothing to do with. What kind of stuff you get out of it, you know? And you and I both know that some of the people who we admire the most on an intimate level have like, taken such severe face plants in their life, like they have a trail of disasters behind them, addictions and alcoholism and shame, terrible things that they did. Police records sometimes like some of the people like just who I Revere and and who I come to when I’m in distress. Like, if you could have seen who they were 20 years ago, you would cross the street and, you know, like, put your wallet in your front pocket and you should because they were dangerous, screwed up, disastrous people. But they had moments of reckoning where they suddenly realized, I don’t just want to be. I don’t just want to be a million unconnected molecules flying through space, bumping into fighting and getting knocked over by everything I see. I want to be an integrated thing.

Elizabeth Gilbert (00:19:35) – I want to be a whole thing. I want to be a real thing. I want to be a good thing. And and they sort that out and in so doing, became heroes. That’s a good life. It’s the only life. The rest of it. You’re just a meat puppet paying bills. And that’s not going to do it for me or for most of us, you know? And it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t have to have magnitude in the outcome. It will have magnitude simply because you laid claim to it and made it your own. That’s magnificent enough and rare enough. Thank you. You’re welcome.

Jonathan Fields (00:20:22) – So big. Thanks for sharing her wisdom on creativity, curiosity and collaborating with inspiration. Showing up and choosing curiosity brings the most interesting ideas. And our next guest, Morgan Harper Nichols. She found her inspiration through honoring stranger stories, through poetry in a very public way, and found that in doing so, she not only shared other people’s voices, but found herself finding her own and building a stunning global community around it all.

Jonathan Fields (00:20:50) – Morgan is a poet, mixed media artist, musician and author of several books, including The Wall Street Journal bestseller. All along you were blooming, and she shares how she unlocked her unique voice once feeling disconnected and unable to connect through her art, Morgan found new motivation when strangers connected with her vulnerability through poetry and our conversation, it explores how Morgan made the intentional shift to writing poetry specifically to honor people’s individual stories and the impact this had on her own creativity and unique voice. And she reveals how her own story became less important and how even poems that resonated with just one person keep her writing. And Morgan’s journey offers a really fresh perspective on how creating artistic or expressive work to connect with others can reawaken our own unique voice and express more of who we are in ways we never imagined possible. Here’s Morgan.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:21:46) – I was just doing like random freelancer things here and there and just trying to figure it out. And one night in 2016, that November, I just think the weight of all those expectations and feeling like I had let people down, I feel like I let down people who had supported me, especially like my family.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:22:09) – And I was just like, okay, I’m an artist. I know how to make things. People tell me, Oh, you’re talented, you’re this and that. But it’s like and yeah, I keep getting told, no doors keep closing. I was like, What am I supposed to do with that? And I I’m not much of a crier, but I feel like this is kind of a trend with people say, who are not cries like it hits you eventually and then it’s just a waterfall. And that just happened and I just broke down. I was like, I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know if I can keep meeting those expectations. I don’t know why, but I just feel like an absolute failure. Maybe there’s that same childhood thing of like, I’m too weird, I’m too different. I’m like, maybe that’s just it. I’m just too weird for everybody. And I wrote a poem about that, and I hadn’t written a poem in terms of like how I felt in I don’t know how long, because even when I was in my MFA program, like I felt like, okay, like there is a way that published poets write and I must write in that way.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:23:21) – So I even then. But in terms of like vulnerable, just I don’t know what to say anymore. My back’s against the wall. This is ground zero. I’m just going to pour my soul on paper. I don’t know when the last time that was that happened and the words just came out. And the poem starts with when you start to feel like things should have been better this year. Remember the mountains and valleys that brought you here? And as I started to write this, I would love to say that I just believe that to be true. But I did it. But at the same time, the word just kept coming out.

Jonathan Fields (00:23:57) – It’s almost like you’re writing to convince yourself to to remind yourself.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:24:00) – Exactly. Exactly. And I may not have said it that way then. It was just like, for some reason, this is coming out of me and I’m just going to write it down. So I wrote it down on a piece of paper in my journal, and then I was like, Huh? That’s a poem.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:24:14) – I was like, Maybe I could share that or something. So I grabbed my phone, took a picture of it, and I was like, I’m going to share this on Instagram. Like, why not? And I got ready to share it. I went through all the little screens, you know, pic, the filter that’s at the caption everything. And I went to that top right corner and I got ready to press share and I just like pull my hand back. I was like, No, this is too vulnerable. I was like, This is too much. I can’t share this. But I was like at the same time, it was weird. I felt like I just had to release it. I had to do something with it. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I just did. So I posted it on Pinterest instead, and I was just kind of like, uh, maybe someone will see it over there. Maybe not. I don’t know. That’s just my way of doing the brave thing.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:25:01) – I put it out there in the world. It’s gone. I can forget about it. And I did forget about it for a few months. And then that following January is when I started to receive messages from people who I knew and on Instagram, and they said, Hey, there’s this reality star that posted your poem. You wrote a poem like on their page, like, Is this you? And I was like, Yes, that is my point. I have absolutely no idea how she found that, but that’s mine. And that ended up happening like a few more times. There was like an athlete that posted it and like, people were tagging me like, this person posted like a poem of yours because I wasn’t like putting poetry out there. So people that I knew, like people knew me for trying to do the music thing. And I was like, Yeah, I wrote that about how is this thing getting out there? So I went back and looked at Pinterest and it had been spent over 100,000 times.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:25:58) – And till this day, I don’t know how that happened. I didn’t put tags on it. I didn’t I don’t know. I guess it was a.

Jonathan Fields (00:26:06) – Confluence of a lot of different things. Just all at once.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:26:09) – Yes. So even after that got out, I was still just like, maybe that was just like a one time thing, you know? Like I’m like, I can’t be a poet. I’m like, I dropped out of my program. I didn’t get the rest of the clues as to how to do this. I was like, I can’t do this. I don’t know. So for a few weeks there, I was trying to juggle that I just this thing happened, but I didn’t really feel like I had more poems in me and I’ve never really thought about it this way until now. I was like, in a way, I think that was supposed to be like the last poem. I think that was like the poem of like, All right, that was it. That was the sum of everything.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:26:47) – That was my last attempt at trying to be this positive, inspirational artist person that everyone is expecting me to be. I was like, That’s it. That’s all I got. And so I don’t think I had an idea of like, where to go from there. However, this poem kept getting shared and I started to receive people’s messages from people that didn’t know, and they were saying things like, Look, I don’t know who you wrote this for or what it was about, but here’s what I’m going through and this is what this poem means to me and some of these stories that I was receiving. I mean, I thought I was going through something. I mean, this was the stories just of loss and tragedy far beyond anything that I had dealt with. And it was in those moments that I felt inspired to write. And I realized I was like, oh. There are other people out there. All along it was about. Other people and connecting. All along it was about connecting and I was so focused on trying to connect.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:27:59) – Maybe up a ladder of like, Oh, if I write a hit song or if I follow these rules, if I do this, then I’ll be able to make a career out of it and I’ll be safe. I’ll be okay. And all along it was like, no, it was just about connecting with other people. They didn’t have to be like people in suits. They didn’t have to be executives, just other people. And I just started to realize I’m like, even though, you know, I spent so much of my life feeling like I couldn’t connect, it was through these messages. I was like, Oh, I did. I did. I was like, I was writing words I didn’t even believe for myself. But for some reason, someone who I don’t even know doesn’t know me felt heard in that. And I didn’t know I could do that. I didn’t know that was possible. And that’s when I started to try to write poems again. And I was like, okay, I’m going to share these because this isn’t about my story anymore.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:29:01) – This is a service now. Like this is something that I can give, a contribution I can give to the world, to one person. I was like, even if other people think this poem is cliche or not interesting or whatever, it doesn’t matter. This is a letter to her. This is for her. It took a long time to figure that out. Yeah, but I’m so grateful for that. That’s kind of got me what got me where I am now and honestly, what keeps me writing and keeps me creating despite all of that.

Jonathan Fields (00:29:30) – Yeah. I mean, it sounds like something happened where you realize that I can do the part that I love to do, and what I create can speak to thousands and now millions of people, but I don’t have to actually step onto a stage and be live in a room with like mass numbers of people in performative mode. In order for that to happen. Like you figured out that there’s another way to make to get the full suite of what makes you come alive happen without you having to go and sort of like suffer in that one particular mode.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:30:08) – Yes. And when this episode comes out, I’m going to have to go back and listen to what you said and I’m going to write that out and put that on my wall. Because the way you just said it, I’m like, yes, that is what happened. That is what happened. Because when you’re in it, it doesn’t always feel like you’re on a journey or just like, I’m stuck here in this whatever. This is like I can’t get out of my head, I can’t get out of it. And at some point it’s like other people, other things like they come in and remind you like, no, you are alive. Like you are like, I do see you. And in a weird way, other people sharing their stories with me reminded me that I was seen. They didn’t know my story. They didn’t know why I wrote that. There’s still details to this day about everything that happened that I still haven’t figured out how to talk about yet. So it’s not about like, Oh, you have to share every aspect of it and then someone’s going to get it.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:31:08) – It’s like, No, it’s just those little flickers, like those little things. It’s like, No, I love to do this, I love this work. And I just found that I was like, just to be able to see other people appreciate the love, the work that I love creating the most, like that was special. And I guess that was maybe like the first time that I felt like that really happened for me in a really significant way. So that honestly gave me so much confidence. I mean, I still have self-doubt a lot as I create.

Jonathan Fields (00:31:44) – And as long as you have a heartbeat.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:31:45) – Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Fields (00:31:46) – All of us are like.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:31:48) – Yeah, and I’ll give you an example. I’ll get comments time to time. Like people are like, Oh, these poems are so cliche. They all sound the same. And there’s been a few where someone has said something for whatever reason they didn’t like it. And I look at that poem and I’m just like, Oh, but it wasn’t for you.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:32:07) – I was like, This is literally for someone else. I have a journal that’s coming out a little later and there’s one of the pieces in it, and I look at it and I’m like, Oh, this was for a 10th grader. I remember her. I know who she is. So even if no one else likes it, it was for her. And in a way, I’m just kind of seeing everyone else and what was for her. So yeah, it’s almost hard for me not to create this way now. Yeah, like, and.

Jonathan Fields (00:32:38) – We should probably put a little bit more because you kind of for sure offer what it was, but effectively what, you know, you hit a point where you’re creating for yourself and people are responding, but then you made a really intentional shift in the way that you were deciding to create and for whom. Yeah. And sort of like the sequence of events. Yes. And I think. That is so powerful. So and you kind of hinted at it, but let’s make it explicit for sure.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:33:03) – So after that experience with that poem going viral and Pinterest and people finding it, and I started receiving these stories and I’m just like, okay, whatever is happening when people when I’m reading these responses, I was like, This is where I’m getting inspired. I was like, I’m getting inspired by this. I was like, This is what’s keeping me going despite all of this, that I feel like I can’t do it. They make me want to keep writing, and it took several months to put it together, but I think I was just working out different things in my brain, like maybe there’s a way I can just make this my rhythm. Maybe this is just my flow, how I do it, how I make art. I just make it for other people. I make it for people’s stories one at a time. That’s what it is. One at a time for everyone that wants me to write for this story. One at a time, I’ll do it. So that was in October of that year.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:33:47) – So January was when that started with that poem, started getting out there and people started sharing it. And it wasn’t until that October, I was standing in my childhood home in Georgia and I was just looking out the window and I was like. I know what I’ll do. And interestingly enough, I never thought of this. Now, I was standing in the same room where I had actually started getting on that forum, Young Writers Society. That was the room. That’s the room where the magic happens, I suppose.

Jonathan Fields (00:34:15) – Juju In that room.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:34:16) – Yeah. So I was standing there like literally right next to where that desk was and I was like, I know, I’m just going to post on my Instagram, Hey, send me your story and I’ll write something for your story and I’ll send it to you and then I’ll share it with everyone else. But I won’t tell everyone their story because that’s not the part that matters. That’s private. Like they don’t have to share their story. We’re just going to share the fruit and the honoring of their story, their poem.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:34:40) – Yeah, that’s what it is. So it just all kind of like came together in that moment and I just posted it wasn’t like a pretty graphic or anything. To this day, I’ve never thought of a name for the project. I don’t know what it’s called. And I was just and everything I just said, I just posted that and like a long little thread on my Instagram story. I just had a long little thread. But yeah, it was just like it was just like a little paragraph on my Instagram story and I was like, maybe a few people will respond. At that time I had, I don’t know, I can’t remember how many followers I had, maybe between 10 and 20,000 or so, just from doing music and everything and traveling. But it wasn’t really engaged, interactive audience. I was like, I don’t know, maybe a few people will see this and a few people responded and I was like, Oh. So I sat down at the table right there, and I had.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:35:33) – My iPad. And at the time I’ve been curious about doing some digital artwork, but I didn’t really know a ton about it. So I had this iPad and it was very basic. It was just a green or gray background and writing texts. I didn’t know anything about lettering or any of that stuff, and I was just like, okay, this person, there’s her story. It makes me think of her journeying up a mountain. I’ll just write about that. So I did. I think that day I did three, I did three. It was like the first three that I got, and it was just like, okay, yeah, I’m just I just wrote for those three. I was like, This feels awesome. I enjoy this. So I just left the iPad alone. I left Instagram alone for the day, woke up the next day and had like hundreds of messages from people that didn’t even follow me. And they were like, Hey, my friend posted that. You’re like writing for people’s stories.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:36:23) – That’s so cool. Can I tell you my story? And I was like, Sure, yes. And I was so excited. And I was like, I CAN’trillionEMEMBER the last time I was this excited to just make things like, gosh, like it just took me back to my childhood. I was like, This is what I’m excited about. I want to do this. I want to do more of this. So yeah, it got to a point where I didn’t have the time to write for everyone’s stories, and I was like, I can’t possibly choose, so I just randomly select. I just started to randomly select. So this was day two where that was happening because they were just rolling in. And interestingly enough, I actually had a show that night because I was still doing a few shows here and there, and all I could think about was just like, Gosh, I got to get back to that. I can’t wait to get back to the hotel. Like, I got to do this.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:37:15) – This is what I want to do. Yeah, Every day I was like, Maybe I’ll just do this for the whole week. And then I was like, I’ll just do it for the rest of the month. Oh, I’ll just do it for the rest of the year. And here we are like in 2020, and I’m still doing it every single week. And that is just become the the thread that holds my whole creative process together. And I think a lot of it just goes back to not feeling like I could connect and then just having all these moments where I just felt like I was just out in the wilderness and I was completely disconnected from all these things I love to do because I wasn’t able to manage how to figure out how to be successful at it based on all these other standards or things. And then to have these beautiful, incredible souls from all over the world, people who I don’t know, some of them I may never meet. And for them to take the time to tell me their story, I couldn’t have planned it.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:38:13) – So that’s what I do. So that’s what I do. I write poetry and I make art. People still send me emails and Instagram messages. And for a period there I was actually doing it every day. But after having my son, you know, I just don’t have the time. Yeah, they change. So at least once a week I make it a point to sit down. A lot of times what happens is I’ll just read their story and whatever word comes to mind, like sometimes it’s trust, sometimes it’s I think they’re looking for freedom healing. Sometimes it’s river. Sunrise Horizon. And I just kind of work from that word. And sometimes the person responds with a long message like, This was my word of the year. And sometimes it’s literally like, okay, thanks.

Jonathan Fields (00:39:05) – And do it for that. Right?

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:39:07) – And sometimes it’s no response at all, but it doesn’t matter. I still feel good. I feel like it’s my thing.

Jonathan Fields (00:39:14) – Um. Would you read something? Oh, sure.

Jonathan Fields (00:39:17) – Absolutely. If you wanted to pick something different also. But. Oh, I would love this one, actually. From your book. Just kind of really stuck out to me.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:39:27) – Yes.

Jonathan Fields (00:39:27) – And again, if you want to choose something different.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:39:29) – No, this is this is one of my favorites. I’m so grateful you chose this one. If you ever start to feel weary of the mundane and completely restless in all that has not changed and rather numb to the mention of grace. Let today be the day you make the mindful decision to find joy in the ordinary places. The white light between the bedroom blinds, the taste of rich dark coffee grinds For even though the extraordinary calls you and you feel its river running wild through your bones in your heart is craving meaning and purpose. On the other side of your unknowns, there are still these flickers of light and familiar tastes that are calling your heart to know, even when you are still. There are so many ways to find your way to gratitude. And the art is a line drawing of a desk by window, and there’s a mountain scape beyond the window.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:40:38) – For me, that was just a way of showing that. There’s always something beyond. But it begins right here. There’s always something. There’s something more to this moment. And I think a lot of times when we think, I want more, I want more. It’s like, well, I got to get on a plane. I got to go somewhere. And that’s absolutely true. I love to travel, but there’s also more happening right here. And in the stillness we can begin to see that. So, yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:41:06) – I love that. Yes. Thank you for reading that and also sharing what was behind the images behind it. It’s really beautiful. So sitting here in this container of the Good Life Project, if I offer up this phrase to live a good life, what comes up?

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:41:20) – Um, the first word that comes up for me is a full life. Like, just fully emerged head. Heart, body, soul. And like you said, it’s hard to fully do that. And all the time, like, we can’t just like be in that state all the time.

Morgan Harper Nichols (00:41:41) – But I think it’s realizing like, wow, all of this together, it’s good. I’m good. There are good things happening here. So yeah, that’s what that means to me today.

Jonathan Fields (00:41:55) – Thank you. Thank you. I love how Morgan shares her story of unlocking creativity through honoring other stories, and she reminds us that connection through our creative expression and acts of service can reignite inspiration. And our final contributor to today’s conversation about finding your unique voice, who is an old friend of mine, Lisa Congdon. She believes that life experience, curiosity and openness are key to developing a distinct, expressive voice. Lisa is an illustrator and author of ten books, including Finding Your Artistic Voice The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. And I love Lisa’s story, in part because she made the journey into art, teaching and entrepreneurship later in life, having assumed that she was actually the one in her family who didn’t have that gift or unique, expressive voice worth cultivating or sharing. And Lisa shares really how to cultivate your unique voice through everyday practice, exploring different mediums and by being vulnerable with her own experiences.

Jonathan Fields (00:42:56) – She talks about letting go of perfectionism, embracing experimentation, and focusing less on style and more on what we seek to say and how that contributed to developing her own voice over time. And she reveals how professionals can really find the sweet spot between what inspires them and what others desire. Lisa shares how owning her own story and path without shame has enabled more joy and a good life as an artist, teacher and entrepreneur. Here’s Lisa. So as we sit here today, you’ve been on tour for a couple of months now with this new book, which is the whole idea of finding your artistic voice. And you hit a point where you’re like, You know what? There’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had. And I know over the years this is a question that you get asked over and over and over is this idea from young artists and probably from not so young artists also like, how do I find because I think that the edict is you’ve got to find your voice. You’re like, you’re not legit.

Jonathan Fields (00:43:51) – You can’t go out there in the world or you can’t even make your own art until you figure out what is that thing that is distinct about you. So you took on this project and said, Okay, let me write a book because that’s what you do. Let’s dive into this a little bit. First, maybe a definition is probably a good place to start. So when we talk about this thing called your artistic voice, what are we even talking about?

Lisa Congdon (00:44:13) – Well, there are so many layers to it, but writ large, it’s what sets you apart. And I wrote this book for visual artists, although the same sort of general principles apply to writers and comedians and actors and anybody who has a creative point of view. But it’s it’s your voice is that thing that even if you work in a similar genre as other artists or have a very similar style, it’s like the thing that makes your work. Yours makes your work different from other artists, even those artists whose work is similar to yours, right? It’s the thing that makes you you.

Lisa Congdon (00:44:45) – And that’s important for a few reasons. It’s important for folks who have professional aspirations, right? Like it’s this thing that feeds building an audience and allows you to exchange money for your work, which allows you to continue making more work, which allows you to continue to develop your voice, which allows that that sort of continuous, continuous professional cycle. It’s also your voice is your story. I think we often equate voice with style, right? Especially for visual artists or musicians, that it’s this particular way that things look, but really your style is. Definitely a very important part of your voice, but your voice is really your own point of view. It’s your own version of the truth. It’s your story, right? And everyone has a story. And a lot of people who don’t make narrative work don’t necessarily think of their voice as their story. But really, your story is everything about you. It’s your values and your life experience. It’s your it’s the color of your skin and your sexual orientation.

Lisa Congdon (00:45:50) – It’s all these things. It’s all these ways that you walk through the world and how you filter everything around you. And that all sort of culminates in what you choose to make work about. It’s your subject matter. And I think that’s surprising to people. And I want to encourage people to focus less on what is my.

Lisa Congdon (00:46:08) – Style.

Lisa Congdon (00:46:08) – To more like, what am I trying to say? What am I about? And I think that’s often missing for a lot of people and also owning whatever that is and not comparing it to other people that maybe their message is more important than mine. Because a lot of times the stuff that we make work about might seem really banal or simplistic, but you’re making that work for a particular reason. And that’s important because it’s what makes your work yours. It’s your own particular point of view. It’s owning your process and the way you approach your work and the materials you use and the subject matter and all of those things. It’s interesting, when I before I made decided to make this book, my real sense of curiosity was like, How did I get from this place where I had no artistic training And I taught myself pretty much almost exclusively along the way.

Lisa Congdon (00:47:01) – I took a few classes here and there, but how did I get from this place of being a total beginner to somebody who has this very well formed voice? And I realized that there was something there that I could learn from. And then I also interviewed a bunch of other artists. Everybody goes through their own path, right? How did you find your voice and what was important in that process? And I also dove into some research about creativity and how the brain works. And as it turns out, practicing and showing up and doing the same thing over and over and over is one of the main things that leads to one finding one’s voice in whatever medium you use. And the other thing is actually openness to experience, like just being open to and being non-judgmental. This idea of just being present with what is being curious and having this sense of wonder about the world actually is extremely important in developing your voice. And I think I understood all of that on some level before I started, you know, researching and writing the book.

Lisa Congdon (00:48:03) – But the book sort of like made that all very clear to me.

Jonathan Fields (00:48:06) – As reflecting as you’re speaking on, years back when we were filming, I had the opportunity to sit down with Milton Glaser, who’s this iconic designer, just an astonishing human being. And we circled around to the topic of style. And he is a fierce he hates the idea that you would label somebody with a style or that anybody who is in the creative world would say, This is my style. And they put a stamp on it. And he said, people tried to do that. He’s incredibly successful and people would hire him because they kind of wanted like, they’re like, Well, we want that style. And he’s like, No, you hired me because of the way I think, the way I see the world, because I have my unique process and point of view, and you need to trust that that will come up with something that’s really good, that may look like nothing I’ve ever done before. And I remember him sharing how that was not always the most comfortable conversation with clients who wanted it to look like X, which had been done like a whole bunch of times before.

Jonathan Fields (00:49:09) – And I think when we lock ourselves into that, it’s almost like we’re reverse engineering. So we lock ourselves into a style which then makes us afraid of evolving the human being underneath the style, and then everything becomes stale.

Lisa Congdon (00:49:25) – That’s right. I have a friend right now who. I have spent some time with in New York this week. She lives here and she’s an illustrator and she’s sort of bored. She makes a lot of products and she has a very distinct style and she really wants to break out of it. But her clients, they expect things a certain way. And I was really encouraging her. And I think she’s ready. She really wants to move her work into a new direction. And I said, you have to trust the process. You have to trust because if you are bored making the work that you’re making or you’re making it for other people, you are going to lose interest. It’s going to be a miserable experience for you. And I think what’s often confusing for people is like, my voice has always been pretty consistent, actually, but my style changes every now and again depending on the mediums that I’m using.

Lisa Congdon (00:50:14) – And I think for a long time people were confused by that. Oh, you try so many things. You do so many things. You paint, you draw, you collage, you do this, you do that. I mean, consistency is important. It’s part of your voice. But that’s more the part of you that like comes out in your work. This idea that everything you make has to look the same or be in the same color palette or, or be in the same style constantly is actually antithetical to creativity, right? Like we want to get to the place where we’re really open to trying new things and doing things in a new way and going with these crazy ideas that we have about making new work. And I would encourage people to really focus on that and let that guide your work rather than I must make things in this way because that’s what people want to consume.

Jonathan Fields (00:51:04) – Yeah, it brings up a really interesting question, which is. When you think about doing the work to develop your artistic voice and the desire.

Jonathan Fields (00:51:17) – And this isn’t true for everybody, but if you also desire to have, then your artistic expression be the source of your living. Do you feel that there is a tension in developing those simultaneously? Do you like alternate between them? Because if you’re trying to develop what feels really true to you, at the same time that you’re trying to develop work that you think will pay your rent. Is that okay?

Lisa Congdon (00:51:44) – Yes, I’m really into Venn diagrams. For me, it’s this intersection between doing what I love and what I want to do, but also finding that space where. Other people if that overlap, you know, with what other people are appreciating and enjoying. And maybe even a third circle that is something about. I don’t know. Honoring my own. Point of view and my own experience and my own approach to things that there’s some kind of sweet spot in the middle there. And I encourage everyone to figure out where your Venn diagram might look different. But for the purposes of having a professional career, I think you have to find the overlap between what brings you joy.

Lisa Congdon (00:52:35) – What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? And what brings other people joy and what makes other people want to consume your work or identify with your story or say, That is so beautiful. I love that I’m going to go buy it from your shop or whatever. That doesn’t mean that that’s all you do. Maybe there are some stuff you’re doing on the side that’s a little weird or different or that isn’t necessarily even commercially available and that you’re not necessarily. Restraining yourself, but finding the intersection between. What brings you joy and what brings your audience? Joy feels to me like the place that we have defined as professional creatives. And if you’re lucky or you’re smart about how you work at that, you’ll find it. I actually find the most satisfaction in that work because there’s something about making something. Being in the flow of making it. Or even if I’ve not been in the flow, even if it it was, you know, something that I created out of struggle and consternation, which sometimes also happens.

Lisa Congdon (00:53:40) – But in the end, I’m like, I’m so down with this thing, it’s so good. And then putting it out into the world and having other people respond to it is like And that doesn’t always happen either. But when it does, it is like the most intense feeling of kind of connection and. I don’t know resonance that I can describe. It’s to me one of the best parts of being an artist is not just the act of creating, which is also really amazing and wonderful personally and internally, but also like how when I share that stuff and other people respond to it is like it’s magical. And that’s part of what motivates me to keep making work. And I think that’s the thing everybody needs to find and it’s going to look different for everybody. But I do think that those things are compatible. And ultimately, when you’re doing what you love and you are doing it out from a place of curiosity and openness and joy, it’s going to resonate with people. It just happens. So I love that.

Jonathan Fields (00:54:41) – It feels like a good place for us to come full circle. I’m going to ask you a question I have asked you before, but it’s been a lot of years. Okay. So as we sit here in this container of a Good life project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?

Lisa Congdon (00:54:55) – For me personally, I have really spent a lot of time in the last couple of years trying to move from this place of feeling like. I did. I didn’t belong, or that I came into this world of art and design as an outsider and really just owning my own experience and honoring my own experience as an older woman, as somebody who’s self as some, as actually like my strength and not the thing I need to be ashamed of. So for me, part of living a good life is really owning and honoring whatever your path is. We spend so much time in shame spirals or in not feeling like we’re enough or in not feeling like we’ll ever be good enough.

Lisa Congdon (00:55:45) – And the minute I started changing my own narrative about my life and my potential and what was actually connecting me to the people who are consuming my work, I started to relax and feel more joy and. If some people might describe it as confidence, but just this sense of equanimity about like my life and I feel like my life is so much better because of that sort of shift that I made. So I would say right now, what makes a good life for me is just being me and owning my own experience as valuable and important and being okay, taking up space with that.

Jonathan Fields (00:56:35) – Thank you.

Lisa Congdon (00:56:36) – You’re welcome.

Jonathan Fields (00:56:38) – So big thanks to Lisa for sharing her journey and wisdom on finding your voice. Her words really remind us to honor our own paths, embrace experimentation, and share our truth. So I hope our conversation today has inspired you to listen more closely to the voice within you, just waiting to emerge through your own creativity and expression. Finding, cultivating and honing and sharing that voice. It’s just so important both for your own ability to feel fully expressed in your life and also because the world needs it more now than ever.

Jonathan Fields (00:57:09) – Thanks so much to Liz Morgan and Lisa for generously sharing their wisdom and journeys with us. So go out and make something, share something, connect with another through your unique voice. And if you love this episode, be sure to catch the full conversations with today’s guests. You can find a link to those episodes in the show notes and of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Love Project in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person. Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered.

Jonathan Fields (00:58:07) – Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action. That’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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