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10 Questions That Will Help You Find Your Voice

by | Process

Since the early days of the Accidental Creative podcast we’ve closed off with the phrase “cover bands don’t change the world – you need to find your unique voice if you want to thrive.” A cover band is a band that plays other people’s music, and they often fill music venues and make money, but at the end of the night people go home singing the music. Cover bands are often quickly forgotten, but the music lives on.


My new book is available now. Develop your voice, and make your work resonate.

This doesn’t mean that emulation is always wrong. In fact, emulation is a key part of early growth and development. However, we cannot rely on imitation as a short-cut to success. If we do, our success will be hollow, and without a foundation. In order to add lasting, meaningful value, we must – eventually – find our own voice.

But how do we do that? With the pressures and demands of daily work, it can often be overwhelming simply to deliver on expectations, let alone to try to find some unique way of engaging our day. But it’s often in the midst of our work that we will find the best clues for our deeper, resonant vocation. The sources of both “voice” and “vocation” are close to the Latin word vocare, which means “to call, or invoke”. Our voice is the thing that is being called out of us in the midst of our work. It is the underlying why of our passion, even if we’ve never considered it.

We must actively search for our voice, and clear a path for it to emerge. It is uncovered, not manufactured. We may not even like what we discover at first, but by embracing it we will position ourselves to occupy the unique space for which we’re wired.

Here are a few questions that may help uncover clues to your voice. Set aside some time with a notebook or journal to reflect on each:

What angers you? Every super hero needs a bad guy. Without one, the super hero has nothing to fight against. Are there specific things that evoke a compassionate anger in you? (Key point of differentiation: this is not about road rage, poor service, or leaving the seat up. We’re talking about the systemic things that evoke a desire to intervene in a situation as an act of compassion or to rectify a great wrong.)

What makes you cry? Think about the last several instances that caused you to cry. Movies are fair game too. I’ve noticed that I almost always tear up while watching stories of underdogs who overcome incredible odds. This is a clue to me that my greatest work may somehow involve fighting for those who are oppressed or unheard. (Hence…we call AC “freedom fighters for the creative class.”)

What have you mastered? Are there tasks, skills, or opportunities that you have simply mastered and can do without thinking? These low-friction activities might give you a clue to ways you can continue pursuing your voice. We learn through action, observation, then correction. Start with what you do well, and work your way toward your goal.

What gives you hope? What do you look forward to? What great vision do you have for your future and the future of others? Hope is a powerful motivator, and can give you a clue to the ways in which you may be able to compel others to act.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? We often forget the earliest clues to our voice as we are burdened with the expectations of peers, teachers, parents, and eventually the marketplace. But those early days of wonder – the vast expanses of horizon that hinted at limitless possibility – can give us insight into the deeper seeds of fascination that still reside within us. So…what did/do you want to be when you grow up?

If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do? It astounds me how few people have asked themselves this question, and it astounds me more how few people can arrive at an answer when they do. We believe that a lack of resources is the obstacle to our happiness and fulfillment, but for many of us the limitation has nothing to do with a lack of money or time. The limitation is our fear of falling short of our own self-perception. We point fingers at others because we can’t reconcile our own fear of engagement. We don’t think about limitless possibility because we are afraid of what would happen if we were to get it.

What would blow your mind? (Thanks to my friend Lisa Johnson for this one.) Take about an hour to list 40 things that would blow your mind if they happened. You’ll get to about 15 before you find it difficult. Keep going. List out every thing that would thrill you if it were to happen, including relational things, business things, travel, ambitions, hopes, etc. My wife and I have done this a few times, stretching each time we do. To date, many of the things on our list have actually happened. Some never will. But it’s a great way to identify patterns in your motivation.

What platform do you own? No need to start over. Build from where you are. What platform do you already have for self-expression? What foundation can you build on to begin affecting the kinds of change you’d like to see? Never trust someone who says they want to see the world change, but can’t effect change in their own neighborhood.

What change would you like to see in the world? If you could identify a single delta – a big change that you would like to see before you die – what would it be? What would be different about the world because you lived? Don’t be afraid to think big, but be specific. You may not be the one to lead this change, but you may be able to play a significant role in it. (By the way…think relationships here too. The biggest change you and I have the capacity to make is in the lives of others.)

If you had one day left, how would you spend it? If you knew that you would evaporate at midnight, how would you spend your last day on earth? What questions would you ask? Who would you spend time with? What work would you do? Again, this is an interesting way to begin identifying patterns within your passions, skills, and experiences.

We need you. You are not disposable, and your contribution to the rest of us is not discretionary. Do not abdicate your contribution. If you do, you will spend the final days of your life wishing you’d treated your time here with more purpose. Today, here, now, in this moment, resolve to uncover your voice and to begin acting to effect change in this world. You may be reluctant to accept the role that you can play, but resolve to engage. Die empty.

(I dive into these concepts and many more in my new book Louder Than Words. Get the first two chapters by subscribing to our newsletter.)

Image credit: Photo by h.koppdelaney shared under Creative Commons license.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Bryn Mooth

    At a time when the needle on the confidence-o-meter is veering more toward E than toward F, I needed exactly this encouragement today. Thanks!

  2. Shane

    Don’t be too focused on bad-mouthing cover bands. True most covers are just parrots repeating what was done well. But taking someone else’s idea and truly expressing it in your own unique voice has the potential to turn good art into great art.
    Case in point – All along the watchtower – you most likely know the Hendrix rendition but a lot are still surprised that it is a Bob Dylan song who prefers and still sings it the Hendrix way today. Have you done a cover that the original artist thinks is better than their original version?
    You can be a cover band but if you can’t express it uniquely in your own voice then is it really worth the effort of just being a parrot?

    • Todd Henry

      Shane, you’re right and that’s exactly the point I’m making. There’s nothing wrong with imitation as a platform to expression. My point with the “cover bands” statement has always been the pointlessness of imitation as a short-cut to “success” versus doing the hard work to find your own voice. That unique voice will always be the melding of influences, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with playing covers as a means of expression.

    • Michaela Taylor

      I don’t think Todd was bad-mouthing cover bands. Just making some points.

      I agree with you, Shane, about the parroting of songs. When a song is covered the exact same way the original artist performed it, it loses something for me. I think that Eva Cassidy was a master at covering other artist’s songs in a way that brought the songs into a whole new expression, and she made me like some songs that I never liked from the original artist. Time After Time and Woodstock, to mention a couple. I think that’s a sign of someone who makes covering songs an artform in its own right! :o)

    • Phillip Cantu

      Van Halen’s version of You Really Got Me completely shits all over the original by The Kinks…just saying.

    • Joe

      OMG, that was all you got out of that article? The cover band line was an analogy, duh

  3. Rdopping

    Todd, fantastic tips. Each could make it’s own post I am sure. I am just working my way through your book right now and am inspired by the content. Looking forward to applying some of the ideas in my pursuits. “If you had all the time an money in the world…..” Damn tough question to answer. I can totally see the value in asking these. Thanks again.

    • Todd Henry

      Thanks! Hmm…each one its own post…that’s an idea. Glad you’re enjoying the book!

  4. Saya

    I agree that some times pain and what deeply hurts  can be a motivation and an arrow to the right direction when feel road ended. 

    • Todd Henry

      This has certainly been true for me and for many others I’ve worked with.

  5. Jolie101415

    I have your book, which I have not finished and finding your site noodling through Amazon about a ‘book I already own’ brought me to your podcast, articles, and golly, a whole bunch of interesting words by you (and AC).  My comment about tonight’s discovery:

    1. at age 68, watching my life fritter away because I feel stuck, I listened to a few things that make a lot of sense and have been in my background.  A,. Have a routine.  Used to write every night once I got my son to bed/asleep from 9am – 1or 2pm.  I did free writing (in those days I called it warming my fingers on the keyboard)  until something started to take shape and form.  Then I let the poem(s) out that were sitting in my mind, collecting as silent thoughts.

    2. My fear, which I have spent a lot of time thinking about also has been based on  ‘fear of being thought crazy’ because I feel compelled to write about an early childhood that definitely shaped everything about me and a marriage that was abusive & icing on the cake.  To talk about these things which seems bizarre in the telling has left me for too many years afraid to warm my fingers over the key …. and let my pesky history out.  That fear of Fears: insanity or just the realities of bad circumstances? 

    3. After listening tonight, I think I will just write and decide later what I want to do with  it.  Also, if I decide to try to show it to othersm I will let the reader decide if I was crazy or not.  Hopefully they will learn some lessons I learned awfully late.   So much so that I will be 69 in October!  Better late than never, huh?

    Glad I found you … now I will go get your book AC and start reading… then warm my fingers on the keys!

    • Todd Henry

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. So glad to have you as part of this community, and I hope that our writing and work here can be of continued help in your efforts! Happy “warming the fingers”… :)

  6. HolaMindy

    After reading this post, I dug out the “Things That Would Blow My Mind” list I made back in August of 2011.

    Out of 15 items on the list, 7 of them have happened or will happen within the next month. And here I thought I was overreaching myself.

    I think it’s time to make a new list! :-)

  7. Andrea |

    This is some of the most awesome encouragement ever…

    “We need you. You are not disposable, and your contribution
    to the rest of us is not discretionary. Do not abdicate your
    contribution. If you do, you will spend the final days of your
    life wishing you’d treated your time here with more purpose. Today,
    here, now, in this moment, resolve to uncover your voice and to begin
    acting to affect change in this world. You may be reluctant to accept
    the role that you can play, but resolve to engage. Die empty.”…bordering on the sublime.Thank you!

  8. Deepa

    Hi Todd…Never realised that 2 words would change my thoughts in a way such that would bring about a positive change in my life!! The 2 words are “DIE EMPTY”. I perceive these 2 words in 2 ways:
    1. Being able to express/do things that you always wanted to in your lifetime
    2. Keep sharing your experiences and giving back to the society, thus whilst living u empty out what u have got…In fact one could also rephrase it as Live to Learn but Die Empty…
    Am a graphic designer by profession and so would like to thank you for inspiring our Creative Minds!!

    Thanks Deepa

  9. Andy

    Here’s another way to find your voice: what makes you laugh? What’s killingly funny to you? I often find I do my best (and most compassionate) work when I’m rebelling against absurdity or taking human foibles into account. Humor is also a great way to disarm others and avoid a defensive reflex.

  10. Melanie Kissell

    One more question, Todd, to help uncover clues to your voice: “If money were non-existent, how would you barter your way to your next meal?”

    If tomorrow were my last day on earth, I would spend at least a portion of it encouraging people I cherish to visit your website. :)

  11. Dolores

    I just adore The accidental Creative…I began with the podcast many years ago, then bought and “ate” the book and still love every interview or post. This one is brilliant and helpful. I just wanna thank you for not being a cover band and help us find our own voice!!!

  12. Daniel Hanzelka

    We all have a purpose in us and our past experiences are sometimes the key to our purpose in life. If we take the time to discover what our passions are and what we are good at we can find our voice. These questions will defiantly help on that journey to living your live on purpose. For me as a Financial Planner I have found my purpose in educating other about finances and about the fact that the money business is not about money. It is about our relationship with money.

  13. LaurelGrace

    Thank you. Using this week as part of a final for my college students.

  14. Sarah

    Hi Todd, I know you wrote this a long time ago but I hope you see this comment and can maybe respond – First, thanks for writing this! I’m having trouble with one part though – the idea that you may not like what you find when you search for your voice. I have a feeling that this is the fear that is keeping me from really making the effort to find mine. On the other hand, why wouldn’t someone like what they found? I’ve long believed in becoming and creating who you want to be as much as possible (without being inauthentic), but lately I feel as though that effort has taken me away from who I really am…but I don’t want to be who I really am, I want to be what I envision becoming. Shouldn’t finding one’s voice include both self-discovery and self-creation? I’m probably not making much sense, but I was just wondering if you have any thoughts.

    • Todd Henry

      Sarah, thanks for your comment. What I meant to imply by that statement is that what you discover may not align with what you hope you’ll find. In other words, as much as I admire (and sometimes envy) people with specific skill sets or areas of influence, I will never be them and could never have the same kind of impact they do. A part of finding your voice is learning to accept your skills, experiences, and perspective, then applying them to the work that’s in front of you. In many ways, it’s the process of letting go of what you’d hope to find in order to embrace and leverage what’s actually there. Once you do, you have a platform to build upon.
      With regard to the fear, I understand completely. Been there. However, I’d encourage you that hiding from what’s there doesn’t change it or make it go away. You’re far better off discovering what you have to work with and moving forward with that self-knowledge rather than wishing or hoping for something different. You build a body of work through action, not through contemplation.
      Just some thoughts. Hope this is helpful!

      • Sarah

        Thanks for your response, Todd, I appreciate it! I understand your point, it’s given me a lot to think about!

  15. Lavonda Pflug

    Applause Applause Applause! What an inspirational post! I’m trying to make my way through Tribe Writers and this fits right in. I appreciate the extra insight into identifying my voice. I’m going to bookmark this.

  16. Rich Hawley

    Delightful surprise reading this, I stumbled here looking for answers to the question: what is unique about the human voice. Regarding cover bands, as a musician in college, my band continually played covers and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t do it anymore. I grew tired quickly of singing other people’s music even though we did them in our unique way, and I hope you get a laugh out of this: think elton john doing welcome to the jungle lol. I knew then that my passion was creating music, original music, and have always found most satisfaction in creating things on my own. The discovery of what you can do, without the noise of what you’ve heard before, is challenging. Even just playing covers, it took time of doing original works before the influence of other people’s songs quieted in my mind, to clear the way for what was inside me. I tend to find more original sounds within me the less I play other works. I will admit though that I do play other works to learn something.

    • Todd Henry

      Yes – I agree that it’s great to imitate and develop new skills, learn your chops, etc. You just don’t want to stay there forever. Constant skill development through imitation is a must!
      Thanks for your thoughts, Rich.

  17. Lewis LaLanne - NoteTakingNerd

    I agree Todd, that acting upon our gifts and natural inclinations is path to bringing massive value to world, which in turn allows us to be proud of ourselves and reward richly for our efforts.

    In an effort to get at what Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach calls “your unique abilities” he tells his clients to do which is to send the following email out to 7 of your friends, relatives or colleagues who know you well . . .

    “I’m currently doing a self-inventory in order to better manage myself. A very wise mentor of mine gave me an assignment to ask you to take a few minutes and tell me what you think my unique capabilities are. What do you see that I do naturally better than most other people? I need to get this assignment in by Thursday so please respond before then.”

    This is one of most powerful actions you could ever take to boost your confidence in yourself. We all like to do what we’re good at, but sometimes we don’t engage in what we’re good at if we think no one appreciates it, or if we feel guilty about it being so easy for us to do.

    The comments you get back to this inquiry can serve to remind and reinforce you in doing more of what you’re awesome at.

    You want to have the seven people you send this out to be from different areas of your life – a mix of colleagues, family, and friends. You want people who see you in different arenas – a professional arena, a family member arena, and a friendship arena and preferably have known you for 3-5 years. You’d look at the top of the list for each of these areas.

    Anything that comes up more than once in your feedback is an awesome candidate for being one of your Unique Abilities. When you’ve narrowed your list down, the next step is to figure out how in the next 12 months how you can be spending 80% of your time engaged in this behavior/activity.

    This feedback can stir up very warm and loving emotions in you and you want to take these opinions seriously.

    On top of this, as a matter of self-reflection, you can answer these questions yourself to take another approach at finding your unique abilities . . .

    1. List every magazine you’ve ever subscribed to for any length of time . . .

    2. Same for newsletters & various publications that you consistently enjoyed reading . . .

    3. Every job or industry you worked in long enough to become really familiar – even if you’ve been out of it for a long time . . .

    4. Every “group” that you’ve been a member of. Examples could be – golf, church, girl scouts, cancer survivors support group, bowling league, pottery making class, Elvis Fan Club, horsemanship, stamp collecting, backgammon, owning rental property, investing,
    chess club, etc.

    5. Every major schooling / training / educational experience you’ve had (like travel to Africa or airplane mechanic school or nursing degree) . . .

    6. Every hobby or fascination you’ve had . . .

    7. 5 topics you know a lot about, that most people don’t know you know a lot about…

    8. Specific products, services or experiences that you have great familiarity with (like a washing machine that broke down so much, pretty soon you knew how to fix it better than the repairman) . . .

    9. Topics you own more than 5 books on . . .

    10. A story of 2 major personal victories from each of the following: childhood; teen years; early adult; recent adult. Tell what happened and what made you feel GOOD about it.

    And Here’s One Last Place To Look Back For Clues In Your Life . . .

    There have been experiences in your life where you’ve naturally and effortlessly done something and you’ve gotten reinforced by other people for doing it with them giving you praise.

    You want to think back to those times when people have told you’ve told that you should be doing something else instead of what you’re doing because you have a natural ability for it.

    Some people have this with standing in front of an audience. Some people have this with writing. Some people have this with an athletic ability.

    Whatever your Unique Ability is, it will be of MASSIVE benefit to you if you take it and plug into an existing platform where the person running it, does not have the ability to make it a success, but that you do.

    Or you want to look for market gaps where you know people are struggling to get an outcome that is easy for you to get and then offer that to them.

    One interesting thing you can do is make a list of all the things you got punished for as a child.

    Most people you’re interacting with, if they like you or are responsible for you will try to make you be like them. They DON’T like people who are NOT like them and this is why your parents, preachers, teachers, and maybe even police punished you for doing things that they wouldn’t dare do – examples of this could be doing physical daring stunts, making the entire classroom laugh, speaking out against the majority in public and not being ashamed to be the center of attention, questioning authority when their oppression offended your good sense, etc.

    Everything you got punished for, you felt strong in your ability to do. You want to pay attention to how that has been a recurring theme in your life or maybe how you’ve repressed it.

    Thank you Todd for reminding me of this oh-so important topic that I can’t be reminded of the importance of too often. :)

  18. Elin Hansen

    It would be more enjoyable for me to answer these questions within a group setting for otherwise it’s just a continuation of what I do normally on my own.

    • Todd Henry

      This is true, Elin. Relationships are critical for self-knowledge.

  19. Angeline Tan

    This is such a well-thought, provocative and action-driving piece. Thanks for taking the time and patience to pen them down, Todd. It’s helping me in more ways than one, and I’ll be selfish not to share and have others partake in this exercise so they can also accomplish their respective purposes in life.

  20. jane

    Great article. I’m at a crossroads in my life at the moment and reading this has got me thinking and planning. It’s perfect timing. Thank you!

  21. Nanchez

    12/27/13 Thank you. Especially the part about “We need you. You are not disposable, and your contribution to the rest of us is not discretionary.” Cuts right to the heart.

  22. Karen Lynn Dixon

    Hi Todd-thank you for this article. It has come into my life at exactly the right time! I am looking forward to discovering more of your work and thank you again for your insights.

  23. Katie Moore

    This is so well put!! I have never heard it expressed just like this. It is true! What gets us so upset are the exact things that we are passionate about. All your points here on this subject resonate so well with me. I am going to use them as a guide. I really appreciate your insight here. Thank you!!
    Katie Moore

  24. ashley

    I feel like my existence is a waste :(

  25. Lori

    I’m seriously not good at anything. How can I have mastered something? I don’t even know what I’m “already good at”

  26. MaggieC

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading your questions, just some quick feedback (and this helps me answer one of the questions you posed (!), as a reader from the UK I am accustomed to using ‘effect’ as the verb and ‘affect’ as the noun and so as a person I ‘effect’ change in the world ….It just trips me up as I read so thought I’d let you know! Thanks

    • Todd Henry

      How interesting. In the US we use the words in reverse fashion. (I experience the “effect” of something, or I can “affect” something.)
      That said, since you are the originators of the language, perhaps we should reconsider. :)

      • MaggieC

        ….as a living, changing language which is mongrel in its origins ‘English’ is harder and harder to define. All I know is that when I think I understand what someone says/writes it is often culturally defined and almost easier to misunderstand someone speaking the ‘same’ language rather than a different one….now how do I translate this fascination into a way of finding my voice :)

        • Alison Lewis

          MaggieC, I’m from the UK too, but have to disagree with your definitions. ‘Affect’ is used as a verb, not a noun – most common meaning: to influence, to have an effect upon, e.g. the experience affected him deeply. ‘Effect’ can be a noun or a verb, but when used as a verb it is with the specific meaning of causing something to take place, e.g. to effect change, to effect a peace treaty.

  27. Choc Choc

    I am 21 and just beginning to realize that I have not uncovered my voice. Would you say that it is part of the soul searching that comes with adult development?

    • Todd Henry

      Absolutely. Everything comes with time, persistence, and attention. It’s an evolving process as you experiment, notice, and act on what you see. Good luck!

    • Yellytosa

      I’m 23.
      I’d say yes.

  28. Laugh Live Love

    How do you help and inspire others to see this? I get so frustrated watching others sleepwalk through life! Especially those we care about the most like a child or a partner!

  29. MTL

    Thank you for this article it was truly inspiring. Now I’m going to find my voice by taking the suggestions listed above.

  30. Cindie Klein

    Die Empty? Never heard of that. Can you do that?

  31. Ron Johnson

    I really enjoyed this article. I need to ask (which may have an obvious answer, but I’m confused.) Does your “voice” extend to other than literary media such as music, art and photography? I’ve tried and tried over my 68 years to write, but I just get discouraged. However I humbly admit I have succeeded well in landscape and portrait photography and vocal music. Best regards to all.

  32. Bert

    I love your blog – thanks for sending it out to the world!

  33. Siddhi Shah

    What if I haven’t mastered anything?

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  36. donna w.

    Hi Todd! Love this post! I am on a mission to make a difference in this world and I want to live each day purposefully. I’ll definitely be reflecting on these questions.

    A friend of mine recommended that I read The Accidental Creative and I added it to my fall reading list. I started my blog a year ago and I am trying to figure out which direction I want to take it in. I am pretty sure your book will provide some much-needed guidance.

    Thanks for sharing!

  37. Annamarie

    Thank you, this came at ecatly the right time and I am spending the weekend on it. As always you are extremely helpful to my growth

  38. Linji

    I’m very late to this conversation but want to say this is a wonderful article. I started it and then went back, realizing I needed to list the questions and answer them. I do with you would explain more about platforms. What if you think you have no platform (or not much of one)? This is a sincere question since I am chronically ill, homebound and don’t have much social interaction.

    • Todd Henry

      Hi Linji! If you are interested in learning more about platforms, I’d suggest you check into a book by Michael Hyatt called Platform. He goes into a lot of detail about how to build a platform for expression. In the meantime, know that all means of interaction with others and all opportunities to express yourself are opportunities to express your voice. Each of us has a different sphere of influence, and varying opportunities to use that influence.

  39. Harold L Arnold Jr

    Love this post. I think a lot of voice and purpose. This gives some really practical clues. Thanks.

  40. latebloomer

    What I took away was I feel I am a voice to validate the unheard. I am working on the 40 item list! How fun! I got a literal voice thing going on. I never thought much of myself that I have something to add to the world. I feel I do. Something was shushing me from childhood. I am listening to my own voice now to stop the shushing! Even if my voice faulters I will speak now.

  41. Dina Rizzi

    Hi. My name is Dina Rizzi.I have been through sooooo much in the last 6 years…culminating with the loss of my lover and friend David Goodbrand to addiction. I was his light and love. There were tremendous struggles and heartbreak but authentic true love is not forsaking in times of tumult. I didn’t want him to feel abandoned and unloved. I was there when the world walked away. That is a true testament of devotion. Unfortunately I was faced with a lot of resistance and hurt by outsiders. Our relationship was unique on so many levels. I would love a bigger platform to tell my story of an ineffable love affair….stopped short far too soon.

  42. Winston

    This was amazing, thank you for these amazing words

  43. vijay kumar

    thanks,its rezlly work in questing someone insight


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