Name: Lauren McNary
Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
Where do you live? New York City
What does it mean to have a voice? Having a voice is an honor and privilege to express myself in all ways. My voice is a window into who I am. I aim to use my voice genuinely and honestly. I get to choose how I use and express my voice and I find that the most beautiful.
How did you find your voice? I found my voice when I knew exactly who I was as a woman. A strong inner voice that is sure and confident is the foundation for my outer voice. I found my voice when I started focusing on myself by celebrating my wins and healing and learning from past difficulties. My voice gets stronger as I continue to learn and grow through life’s experiences.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
I grew up in Clearwater, Florida. Some of my fondest memories from my earlier childhood are going everywhere with my parents. I remember going to meetings and getting dressed up and going to banquets. I was always very excited to join them and I soaked in every second of it. My parents exposed me to everything that they could. Over the years I watched my parents give speeches and accept awards and be recognized for all the great work they were doing in the community. My mom is a real life example of breaking barriers. She was the first black woman to become a judge in our county court system. I knew her position was significant but I wouldn’t realize how groundbreaking it was until I was much older, that through following my parents around, I was shown that I could have a voice even in the rooms I wasn’t supposed to be in.
The example that my parents set gave me a great foundation. My parents showed me that if you use your voice in the right way it can be very impactful. It would take years to find strength in my voice but I am glad that I found that strength.
I learned early on in my childhood the importance of hard work since my parents emphasized hard work in everything I did. It was instilled in me and my siblings. My mom would often say hard work plus nothing. It cuts to the chase and is very straight forward but that was the standard. I grew up watching my parents work so hard to provide for our family and now that I’m an adult, I realize all the sacrifices that were made for me and my siblings growing up. They gave us the world. We grew up knowing to be grateful in any and every opportunity that was afforded to us. Along with gratefulness I also learned kindness at a young age. My parents were very involved in our local community and giving back was a priority for them as well. I watched my parents work with several organizations and give their time and resources and we were taught it was important to help and support those who were less fortunate.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
I’ve always had a voice. As a child I was encouraged to have a voice in my home. Growing up my voice would get lost outside the safety of my home and family. Honestly, I don’t ever remember having an opportunity to express my voice when I was in middle school or even high school. Thinking about it, the only place I would have expressed my voice would have been on the basketball court or on the track surrounded by my peers.
I started expressing my voice in college at Howard University. Howard was where I started to find my voice. Expressing myself was not only encouraged, it was celebrated. I was immersed in a world where I was acknowledged, not just at home or in a close circle of family and friends but celebrated everywhere. It was life changing. When I am heard something very powerful moves within me.
The values that drive me the most are the values that were established in my childhood. I grew up with Christian values and a long list of others that I still live by today. I was taught that there is value in integrity, honesty, loyalty, authenticity, and commitment, just to name a few. Values follow you and they shine through everything we do. I am proud and honored to be a black woman. I was raised by a strong black woman and I am blessed to continue to learn from many strong black women. The black experience has taught me resilience. My voice carries strength and authority because of who I am.
It is important that as I navigate my career and personal growth that I reach back and pull someone up. There have been so many people that have guided me along the way. I know that my purpose is much greater than myself. It is about the people that I will touch and help along the way. That is what drives me.
How valuable is walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy?
Walking in empathy is not always an easy thing to do. It has become easier when I started asking myself how I would like others to treat me. Although we can never control a person’s actions, I have had to take a step back and put myself in their shoes. Every day I now purpose to extend grace as much as I can. You never know what someone else is going through. I enjoy working with people and people management can be challenging but I have never regretted a day when I was able to extend empathy to someone else.
There are risks involved in sharing your voice. The sacrifice that I have made is being vulnerable enough and open to share my voice with the expectation that my voice may be rejected. I take push-back in stride. I’m not going to always resonate or be relatable with everyone and I have learned to be okay with that. Push-back is not always easy to receive. If there is a lesson to be learned from it, I take it because I don’t always get it right.
How has your voice influenced others?
I consider myself a behind the scenes kind of person. I was surprised how I began to influence others when I started sharing more than I normally do on my Instagram posts through running. Social media has been said to be a platform for people to paint the best picture of their best lives. I don’t disagree with that but I personally have set out to share my truth. Everyone’s truth includes both the good, the bad, and in between. I was led to start sharing it all when I saw fit.
The posts where I share my personal experiences are where I get the most feedback. Themes around inspiration, growth, and challenges are where I see the biggest influence. I have received personal notes and thank you’s from my peers. It means the world when someone simply thanks me for sharing. It is just as meaningful when someone expresses that they deal with similar things and provides an encouraging word.
My community benefits from hearing my voice because my voice is honest. I share to show that I don’t have to dim my light or change who I am to fit in. I have difficult and stressful days just like everyone else though I also have great days that are worth celebrating. It has been important to me to share both when I’m led to. I want my voice to be one that other women can trust.
Where will your voice lead next?
I am really excited to learn and grow in the field of photography. I am learning to shoot motion photography. It brings me a lot of joy to shoot running! I am excited to pursue entrepreneurship and am also excited to sign up for more races. I have rediscovered my love for running in distance running. Distance running is a challenge, but I excel when I’m challenged. I am growing so much through my new running journey.
I will be betting on myself more. I am excited to pursue entrepreneurship. Creating with other women is a priority. I have the privilege of capturing the journey of a group of phenomenal ladies from Girls Run NYC as they compete in a race from LA to Las Vegas called the Speed Project. I am honored to be a part of the project and looking forward to using it as a launching platform. I’m excited to start living my life Fully Alive!
As a naturally giving person, I would also like to start doing more to treat myself and put myself first. Taking the time to do the small things would be a great start. I would love to travel more and start taking more risks and investing in myself. I would like to do less worrying and be okay with living in the present. Letting tomorrow worry about itself is something I struggle with daily. It is hard not to think about the future and even harder not to go back and look at the past. Doing less worrying is a priority for me.