One thing you should never give up in life is your own voice. To me, it's the same as signing over your power and prospects to someone else. But often, people aren't even aware they're choosing to do that.
You're just sitting in a meeting, reluctant –or too polite -- to challenge someone else's point of view. Maybe he's speaking with so much conviction and seems so knowledgeable that you're worried you'll look like an idiot if you contradict him. Or maybe you just really, really need the money or the support or the opportunity that's on offer, and you don't want to give offence. Whatever the case, before you know it, if you stay silent, the opportunity to reframe an issue or shape a decision is gone.
For entrepreneurs, there's a particular risk: give up your own voice, and you essentially hand over the keys to your kingdom. Your voice, your personal vision for your business--that's what being an entrepreneur is all about. You are quite literally trying to have your say in the marketplace, and to be heard. If you let someone else do the talking for you – investors who want to control rather than support; naysayers who want to dismiss rather than constructively question – well, what's the point?
You need to trust your own right to speak up, and try to view it as a responsibility to your business. Without some baseline level of self-confidence about the soundness of your business proposition, you can't hope to inspire others to have confidence in it. Or in you. Let me be clear though: by self-confidence I'm not talking about bravado or misplaced arrogance or wearing people down to the point where they'll agree to anything just to get you to shut up. I'm just talking about expressing your vision clearly and clearly believing in it, in which case you won't have to resort to hard-sell tactics. Others will follow you.
Sounds basic, right? But it isn't. I can remember being in meetings where I felt totally voiceless, like other people weren't listening. The problem wasn't them though. It was me: I'd speak up, but hesitantly, because I didn't trust that my point of view had validity. Sometimes my instincts would tell me there was a simple answer nobody else was seeing, but then I'd second guess myself. Surely if a simple answer was available, somebody else –somebody smarter--would've mentioned it? By the time I opened my mouth, a small and uncertain voice would come out, and I had that sinking feeling you get when you know you're not making a point very well. I was so afraid of being judged by others who I assumed had more insight than I did, that I couldn't express my ideas with the clarity and verve they deserved.
Invariably, when I look back at those occasions when I didn't trust my inner voice and failed to speak with confidence as a result, eventually I'd be proven right—only, someone else would get the credit for the idea. Over time, I began to realize that I was right more of the time than I was wrong. That taught me not to assume that everybody else must be smarter, or to automatically give other people's opinions more credence than I give my own.
I think that's one of the most important lessons I've learned as an entrepreneur, and it's a lesson that has stood me in good stead in every aspect of my life.
I was going to end this post by asking whether I had this all wrong and invite you to weigh in. But since I've just spent the last five minutes telling you how important I think it is to trust your own voice, I'm going to assume that I have contributed something worthwhile to this discussion, and go straight to the part where I ask what you think.