How to Find Your Original Voice

By Jenn Rose Smith

In 1972, social psychologist Irving Janis coined the term “groupthink”. He wanted to give a name to something he saw happening when people made decisions as groups. What he is observed was that the desire for harmony within the group caused people to oftentimes forgo their own creativity. If Janis were still here today, he’d see his own theory come to life on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. As creative millennials it seems like the more we share online, the more alike we become. Are we all headed towards the same sharp point? Will we all end up sitting on one giant diamond flokati rug, sipping cappuccinos and styling overhead shots of rose gold accessories?

As a longtime creative and working member of the blogosphere, I say no. We don’t have to end up there. Artists have struggled with groupthink for years before it had a name, and there are tried and true methods to break out of the cycle to find your own true identity and voice as a creative person. Over my 15 years of working in creative production (including theater, film, advertising and blogging) I’ve discovered a few methods I can always resort back to when I’m feeling lost in the crowd. Read on for my five tips on how to find your original voice as a creative:

1. Change what you’re looking at.

It might seem obvious, but changing up your “diet” of media and information is key to getting a creative refresh. In this great podcast from Creative Pep Talk, host Andy J. Miller agrees: “The sum – the average of the things you’re looking at on a daily basis — is what your work will look like.” he says.  Why not purge your Instagram and follow some new people who are involved in a completely different aesthetic? Or better yet, put down Instagram altogether for awhile and explore other ways to be inspired. Plan a trip, take a hike, pick up a great book, or visit a local art museum. Walk around your own neighborhood and talk to people. You’ll be amazed at how many stories are all around you, just waiting to be told.

2. Switch up your medium.

If you’re feeling stuck creatively, try out a different medium to get the juices flowing again. It could be as simple as changing from a digital camera to film. Any new medium brings with it a new process, and through that process you’ll discover new ways to express yourself. You can also try combining different mediums in unexpected ways. A favorite watercolor artist of mine, Kelly Colchin, recently started combining her watercolors with a torn paper technique to create these really cool collage works. Just by playing around with different media she was able to take her work in an exciting new direction.

3. Look to your background and family history.

No matter where you’re from, your history is unique. Maybe you’re from the inner city, or grew up moving every few years, maybe your family goes back three generations in your hometown. Whatever your background is, those experiences ultimately form a big part of your perspective. Embrace your unique story, and let it be a part of your work. One of my favorite examples of this is Willie Nelson, who spent years struggling as a singer songwriter in Nashville before finally making it big. He, like everyone else in Nashville at the time, had styled himself in the likeness of Hank Williams. It wasn’t until he moved back to Texas and embraced his unique background (including his Native American heritage) that he finally found his voice as a singer.

4. Talk about your work with your peers.

If you’re lucky enough to have gone to design school or a conservatory, then you know all about participating in class reviews. There’s a good reason this practice is utilized across academia — it works. If you have access to a trusted group of peers, don’t be afraid to seek their honest opinions about your work. They may see strengths in your work that you don’t even recognize, and help you narrow down your overall direction.

5. Stop playing it safe.

This is undeniably the hardest step to take, but I think perhaps the most rewarding. Whether you’re an actor, singer, writer, or photographer, your work will never be more engaging than when you’re putting your guts on the line. I was in a spin class the other day and the instructor said, “That place where you’re feeling uncomfortable… that’s right where you need to be.” It struck me all at once how universal this idea is. If you want to get better than you are right now, you’re going to have to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. If you want to break out of the millennial blogosphere groupthink, then you’re going to have to stop playing it safe. Take a chance with your work moving forward. Think about it — what’s the worst that could happen? A nose wrinkles. Some eyebrows raise. And you’re one step closer to manifesting your most creative voice.