Name: Melissa Wong
Where do you live now? California
Industry: Coach and Community Strategist
What does it mean to you to have a voice?
Having a voice requires room and it may even require a witness. You have a perspective, you have the space to share it, and you take solace knowing that someone out there is listening. A voice is the instrument of your subjectivity, your unique mind, the way our spirits and hearts communicate with minds.
How did you find your voice?
I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego to parents that created space for me to play and invent. My mom was particularly encouraging of me and my sister being theatrical - singing, dancing, acting. She felt she had missed her calling as a 'famous actress' and so she channeled that encouraging, and sometimes indulgent, attention on us to be behind the camera, goofing off or taking ourselves too seriously, but always feeling like we had a valid idea worth capturing and paying attention.
What event or series of events helped you find your voice?
I felt like my voice was out and about since I was young. It went quieter in my more awkward middle school years but still could be heard in classrooms posing questions and finding ways to lead. That was before there was a delineation between a voice that people could hear in your physical presence and a voice that they could hear in their living rooms miles and miles away through social media. I've never felt my IRL voice disappear or extinguish. As for my 'public voice,' it started getting louder in the past 4-5 years as I stepped into more of my professional confidence. Starting a business in 2016, New Women Space, was a pivotal professional moment. I felt I had a platform and perspective to really say something I wanted others to hear.
A huge reason I created New Women Space was to create the context in which women could feel comfortable to practice sharing their skills, perspective, knowledge — their voice. I loved knowing that I was helping facilitate the process by which women burgeoning as an organizer or business owner could find the support that would bolster their confidence. Learning that some event hosts had previously been hosting out of their living rooms and this was their big moment of hosting in a public place — a coming out of sorts— made me feel like I could play a part in their path of cultivating their voice.
How did 2020 help you refine/redefine your voice?
2020 was a year of going inward; so my external voice got a rest. I wrote short stories for myself, but my writing was in service of my own self-care and sorting out the complexity around me. As I’ve transitioned into 2021, I have done more externally facing writing. I started a newsletter called “Stretch with me” that shares short thought starters for people to contemplate. I think I intuitively knew that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content around them, so I kept it short.
How has your voice influenced others, particularly those in your community?
I work as a community builder and a coach. Empathy is at the heart of so much of what I do. That said, I recently read a distinction between "empathy" and "compassion" in Sharon Salzberg's book Real Change that struck me. It feels important to be able to be both empathetic and compassionate and understand the contexts where one is more needed; as well as to understand the contexts where you're more able to give one
over the other. I can attribute my capacity to hold space for others due to my compassion. I don't take on everyone's pain as my own. I keep a solid enough boundary between someone else and myself, but am able to extend compassion through the lens of empathy in order to retain my grounded center and not over-exert myself.
Where will your voice lead next?
I will soon be making a leap from full-time employment to running my own business as a coach, facilitator, and creator. I know that my voice will be my biggest instrument in not only getting out the word about my offerings, but it will be the very reason people are attracted to work with me as a client or read my writing. With coaching, a big part of my voice is used to bring other people’s voices out. A lot of my clients are so hungry to have their voice be heard but are afraid of being ridiculed or somehow not being good enough. I would love to create spaces where people with things to say can do so in a way that feels safe and supportive. So my voice will be used to call forth and lift up other voices.