“Josh, do you realize you have two voices?”
I scrunched my face, confused. Joseph, Brian, and I were in the middle of a deep, late night talk, the kind that happens at four in the morning, half-awake, half-asleep in the USC Cardinal Gardens. The three of us had sunken into the outdoor couches, lazily tossing sentences to each other while staring at the ocean blue sky.
“What do you mean?” I asked Joseph.
“Your voice changes, depending on certain situations I guess,” he said. “It’s hard to describe.”
I had never heard anyone say this to me. Ever. Maybe it was like my New York accent. I don’t hear it, so I don’t change it.
“Well, next time I switch voices, tell me,” I said. I glanced at Brian, passed out on his couch. Joseph was ready to dip next, but I saw him nod okay before he did.
Fast forward three months. I had participated in the Jubilee Project Fellowship, a two week program where thirteen filmmakers were gathered from around the world to make short films together. If it sounds intense, it is. But not for the reasons you’d expect. I came into the program expecting a hands on filmmaking experience, which I got. However, the community I encountered was so much greater, so much better than any film camp could ever be. This fellowship focused on creating a safe space for people to be open, an environment where vulnerability was considered strength, not weakness.
On the first night, the fellowship director, Eugene, sat us down in front of a white board. He drew a circle. “Let’s say this circle is the true you,” he said. He drew another circle around the first one and wrote the word shame. Lastly, he drew a third circle around the first two. “This is the person you present to the world, that covers up your shame and hides the true you.”
“During fellowship, let’s try to show this side of yourself,” he said, pointing to the innermost circle. And for two weeks, I did exactly that.
Then it ended. We said goodbye to the community we had so quickly formed. Several fellows were staying in Los Angeles for a couple more days, so we made a point to hang out the upcoming week. However, something was different. Don’t get me wrong, I treasured every millisecond I spent with my fellow fellows. But I was different. All my insecurities that had vanished during fellowship began bubbling underneath my subconscious. Walls of shame rebuilt themselves in less than twenty-four hours. And my voice changed.
My first voice I’ll call my normal voice. It’s the voice closest to who I am. Josh Jackson. Myself. It’s talkative, slightly deep, and optimistic. It likes to make corny jokes and goofy puns. I can use it both in a serious conversation or a lighthearted mood. It’s confident.
My second voice I’ll call my shame voice. It’s secretly nervous, but tries to play cool, look chill, and make an impression. It’s a lot deeper, bassier, and makes my Adam’s apple reverberate like a sick beat. I mumble sometimes when I use this voice because it’s rather quiet and calm. Behind it are layers of insecurities and the lies I tell myself. Like I’m not worthy of being loved. Or I’m too skinny to be good-looking, unless you fancy skeletons. My Adam’s apple looks like a second Josh growing out of my neck. I’m too whitewashed to be Asian, but too Asian-looking to be white. The list goes on and on and on and on and on. Seriously. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The scary thing is that I’m not even fully aware of all my insecurities hidden within my subconscious. I probably buried them a long time ago, hoping that if I ignored them, they wouldn’t affect me. Or my voice.
So that’s when it hit me. I have two voices. Looking back on the past twenty-two years, I now had a new vision that spoke volumes of clarity into my life thus far.
For example, I’ve never used my shame voice when I’m around my cousin Dylan, or my immediate family. I’m so comfortable around them. If I’m trying to impress a certain family member with my status on life (I dislike questions concerning my education), then I may use my shame voice. If I’m the youngest of a group, I’ll likely use the shame voice. If I’m in a new environment, shame voice.
At my previous job, I used my shame voice ninety-nine percent of the time. I loved my coworkers, who were some of the funniest people in the world, but I felt so insecure around them. I constantly worried that I would tell a dumb joke and no one would laugh. I almost felt embarrassed about being the only Christian and how I was obsessed with Jesus while most doubted his existence. My coworkers would ask me questions about Asian culture, then quickly discover how whitewashed I was and how I sucked at ping-pong. I wanted to appear cool and unique, but deep down, I knew I was a sham.
I quit my job in April to explore new opportunities in California for a month. During that trip, I met so many new friends in a filmmaking environment where I felt at home. But guess what? The shame voice would still pop up during conversations. I thought I could reinvent myself around these new people, but a wall of shame blocked my attempts. The location had changed, but my insecurities hadn’t. Cue the second voice.
So what do I do now? I don’t think I’m close to uncovering all the insecurities buried inside of me. I do know the best way to combat shame is to be vulnerable, honest, and open.
Later that day, I told all my Jubilee Project friends about my two voices. As I did, I felt my shame voice shrivel up and flee, liberating my normal voice to take control for the remainder of the day. A sense of freedom washed over me. Freedom from fear. Freedom from uncertainty, performance, and legalism. I’m pretty sure a stupid grin planted itself on my face as I shared this with JP. My normal voice, filled with enthusiasm, didn’t even care how they might respond. I was just happy to be free.
One of my team leaders, Taylor, encouraged me to keep being aware of my second voice. It’s probably going to come back. Discovering my layers of hidden shame is only the beginning. But now that I’m aware of it, I can fight it. It’s comforting to have a physical telltale sign when my shame is rising within me. And by combatting my shame, I hope I can be a better person, free to love people without restraints like Jesus did, unafraid to be vulnerable outside of my comfort zones. Ultimately, I think that’s what God has called me to do here in California: to love people. And by His grace alone, that’s what I’m trying to do.