Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin:(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me. As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life.
In my former, gluten-eating life, I loved to bake. The feeling of putting ingredients together, knowing just how they'd behave, and eagerly anticipating the end result as it rose in the oven is an unforgettable and addictive feeling. (I should note: it can still be enjoyable when I do it now, when I get it right, but it's honestly more chemistry than cooking...but I digress.)
Even with the ample practice I got baking for friends and family, there would be moments where I'd miss an ingredient. A loaf would be in the oven for a few minutes before I'd realize "I forgot the salt!" or "Did I add baking powder?" or, once, "Wait, I don't remember using sugar..." The end result never felt quite right, no matter how gracious those who tasted the failed product tried to be.
In his new book, Louder than Words, Todd Henry (who is fast becoming one of my favorite writers and podcasters) talks about a three ingredient formula to creating work you believe in, work that speaks for you with an authentic voice. Just as brownies don't taste quite right without sugar, or muffins are basically pancake cups if you don't add baking powder, your final product will fall flat or feel wrong if one of the key ingredients is missing.
His recipe for success in creating and broadcasting an authentic voice:
1 part identity: the answer to the question, "Who are you?", Henry sees this as a way to convey who you believe you are and where you believe you fit in the world. The right answer to this, is the one you believe- not one that others assign to you.
1 part vision: the answer to the question, "Where are you going?", Henry believes that it's only effective if you can articulate what you want to do, and why that thing is impactful. The impact piece is important, because the "why" is what will keep you going when it's hard to see the finish line.
1 part mastery: the answer to the question, "How will you get there?", Henry views mastery as the skills and abilities that you have to accomplish the goal you're seeking to achieve. You don't need all of these skills right away, but you will need the motivation and discipline to cultivate them along the journey. Why? We'll talk more about that in a moment.
What I love most about this section of the book, is when Henry talks about what happens when you don't include all of the ingredients. With baking, this element was always a mystery: what happens to brownies that don't have salt? Or muffins that don't have baking powder? Louder than Words is kind enough to take you behind the proverbial oven door, letting you know what is lost when one part isn't present.
Identity + Vision - Mastery = Not Credible If you know who you are, and what problem you want to solve, but have no idea how to solve it, how will you get people to invest in your idea of how to solve it? It will be difficult to garner buy-in if you don't know what is needed to fix the situation:
You can yell louder than everyone else, but you will still achieve little lasting impact. This is often the situation early in your career, as you are gaining your footing but still lack the skills necessary to accomplish your vision. You lack credibility, because your skills and platform for influence don't measure up to your ambition.
However, this is a predicament with a remedy. As I mentioned above, if you have the will to learn the skills required to effectively solve the problem you're so dedicated to solving, you'll gain credibility as you develop an ability to apply those lessons. Additionally, you can fill in those gaps by enlisting people who do have the requisite skills, and building an environment where their expertise is respected. These measures will help you complete the equation and yield a presentable final product.
Identity + Mastery - Vision = Not Clear As the adage from Lewis Carroll (loosely) goes, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." This is what happens when you know who you are, and what you know how to do, but aren't sure where you're going. This can often be the case for young professionals or those fresh out of school, with the tools to make a difference but no idea where to use these tools:
Without a vision for your work you are like a ship at sea, unable to weather the storms of contrary opinion or challenges to your point of view. Your work may waffle and ramble to the point of confusion, and even early fans of your work will eventually lose hope and abandon if they can't discern where you're leading them.
So how do you chart a course? Oddly enough, by exploring. Ponder what interests you, what problems seem interesting in the world, and which ones you're willing to set your mind to. Go where you're needed, go where you can feel useful. Once you determine where that is, your equation can be fully realized and your end result can be a fully realized one.
Mastery + Vision - Identity = Not Called Here we arrive at an "a" word I'm not too fond of: authenticity. Anytime you do work that you're capable of, in a finite direction, but that doesn't have your unique stamp on it, you run the risk of creating inauthentic work. Some may feel that a subtraction of identity is caused by not knowing who you are; the greater danger is knowing who you are, and doing clearly directed work that doesn't jive with that identity:
Without an identity-infused voice, your body of work will ultimately be hollow. Your audience is likely to discount you if your work feels inauthentic. This often happens when someone is chasing trends, rather than aiming for impact.
Are you doing work that means something to you, or are you just going through the motions? Make no mistake, I'm not by any means advocating for a singular focus on work, an obsession that unsafely melds your personal life and your professional life into one gargantuan mass; that has its own dangers. Rather, I advocate for work that allows you to be yourself in whatever ways are most meaningful. Let your work demonstrate your personality, values, and priorities. When you, your skills, and your goals for your work are all moving in the same direction, that's when you get a delectable final product, as Louder than Words points out.
Identity + Vision + Mastery = Compelling
Todd Henry has been speaking, writing, and advocating for years for the power of the authentic voice. A former band member himself, one of my favorite sayings of his is "cover bands don't change the world." He wants the world to be filled with ideas, projects, and creative solutions from people who know who they are, what they want to do, and why it's important. And he's found the recipe to that is far simpler than most of us believe: 3 ingredients, in fact. Todd and I urge you to assess where you stand in those three areas, mix them all up, and see what beautiful creations you'll whip up in that mind of yours.