By Lauretta Hannon
“You have a fiercely authentic voice.” That’s how the editor described my memoir, The Cracker Queen, shortly after offering me a book deal. All I could do was smile.
You see, I went through many other voices before I found my true one. As a university spokesperson, I was careful to modify my accent so that I wouldn’t sound so Southern. As a commentator on National Public Radio, I honed my speech so that a national audience could easily understand me. And then there was my “Aunt Martha voice.” I employed this one when talking on the phone to my idol: my Great Aunt Martha. She was from Connecticut, and I didn’t want her to think I was a hick. I stripped away so much of my Southerness that family members would collapse into laughing fits when they’d hear me. I was a long way from my authentic self.
Eventually I could no longer bear the weight of being inauthentic. The dishonesty felt bone-deep, and the knife was beginning to hit the bone. It seemed that I was lying to God or mocking the universe. I was denying what I was given, what I was born to be. And just like when you tell a lie, it takes double the work and screws up everything. I was tired of fighting it.
So I found a place of solitude and quieted my mind. I listened. Nothing came for a while, so don’t be concerned if you don’t get a quick reply either. There is no iPhone app for this. The key is to be a persistent listener. At some point I knew what I had to do.
I had to be a writer, not a university spokesperson. I had to craft The Cracker Queen in the most honest way, without regard to what others might think. And I had to begin redesigning my life so that it would nurture my authenticity rather than strangle it. This would require big risks, but I was ready. Old Man Fear had played a starring role in my childhood and most of my adult life. But his act was now over. I finally had faith in my true self.
The greatest leap was to quit my day job -- during a Recession and despite being the only breadwinner in the household. The day I resigned, the pundits yammered on about the “statistically-assured Depression” that was lurking around the corner. Whatever.
In preparation for leaving my job, I saved every penny from the book deal. I figured it’s better to buy a little freedom than to have never been free. And I was right. This new life is glorious. Writing feels like play, not work. Certainly not a struggle.
Throughout the writing of The Cracker Queen, I said a four-word prayer: Guide me. Use me. At the time I thought I was just asking for guidance in the writing. I didn’t know that I’d be transformed, restored to my authentic self through the writing. But that’s the splendid thing about moving toward authenticity: Once you commit yourself to it, then providence moves too.
5 Tips for Finding Your Authentic Voice
1.) Remember who you really are.
Go to a peaceful place (this doesn’t have to be elaborate, even a closet will do) and BE STILL. Listen, meditate, or pray. Turn off all phones, TVs, and other intrusions fifteen minutes before you begin.
2.) Do not give a damn.
In order to be authentic, you cannot care about what anyone will think or say about you. Let this go for once and for all. You do not exist to please others at the expense of your higher self.
3.) Don’t accept victimhood.
Gandhi said that no one can hurt you without your permission. Yet many of us feel like victims. Remember that you’re choosing to be a victim. Why would you hand over your power like that?
4.) Be a lover not a scaredy cat.
A funny thing happens when you approach your problems from a place of love rather than fear: you move closer and closer to authenticity. Remember this the next time you’re afraid. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
5.) Be ready to break rules and blaze trails.
Society makes it so easy for women to be rule breakers. Expect to raise eyebrows as you become more authentic. You’ll be blazing trails too—it comes with the territory. Wiggle your toes in the mud. Relish this new, fertile terrain.
I call myself The Cracker Queen, but every woman is a queen when she chooses to be real. Begin it now. Make a start. If you do, the universe will respond with staggering abundance.
Lauretta Hannon is a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered and Georgia Public Radio’s Georgia Gazette and has contributed to numerous newspapers. Winner of more than two hundred awards in marketing and promotions, she is the former marketing director at Atlanta Technical College.