Note: This is my first speech with Toastmasters, the Ice Breaker. 😉
I am a writer at heart. I’m happiest with a pen in my hand or a keyboard at my disposal. While it’s easy to write, it’s terribly uncomfortable to share my writing. Especially if it’s something I care about deeply. I also, like many writers, often avoid writing at all costs and have perfected productive procrastination, which is why my closet is expertly organized and all the holiday addresses are up-to-date. Throughout my life, it’s been a process to embrace my voice and express myself. And this is why I’m here. Writing and speaking go together, and I’m challenging myself to improve at both.
Being in front of a group isn’t new to me. When I was younger, I performed in front of crowds with my high school and college dance teams. But I didn’t have to say anything. Later, I taught Sociology courses and am currently teach yoga (at Leela Yoga). But again, it’s easier to speak when it’s not personal. In terms of public speaking when there’s an emotional component involved, I’ve had not one, but two bouts of the ugly cry “toasting” both my sister and my best friend at their weddings. I put that in quotes because I didn’t manage to really say anything of substance either time. It didn’t help that on one occasion I was preceded by the best man who had an amazing 20-minute monologue that was hilarious, heartfelt, and very well-rehearsed. (I hadn’t considered the need to rehearse.)
Embracing my voice. Harder than I realized, and yet I hope to encourage others to embrace theirs as well.
When I was younger, I was the kid who did everything they were supposed to. Got good grades, followed directions, and made sure that everybody was doing OK. Unfortunately, as a parent, I’ve over-corrected, and have nurtured two boys who lean in the opposite direction. (They are lovely, though, so don’t get me wrong.) But I was very in tune with everyone’s expectations, and not necessarily with my own voice. In fact, I was recently looking back at my old elementary report cards, and one teacher described me as “a silent force”. I rarely spoke up in class, and remember being really hesitant to speak up in high school and college.
It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Sweden, though, that I realized how difficult it was to own my voice. While there, my friends and I approached a tunnel and they thought it would be fun to scream as we walked through. I laughed instead. And I noticed I could not physically bring myself to be that loud, so I laughed that “I’m having fun, but this makes me totally uncomfortable” laugh. Since then, I’ve spent my adult life challenging myself to learn new things and step out of my comfort zone. When I got home from Sweden, I practiced yelling into the ocean at the beach. (I lived in San Diego, where I grew up, at the time.) I’ve taken an improv class, and recently downloaded a karaoke app on my phone that’s absolutely terrifying (but fun). And just yesterday, after watching the Carol Burnett anniversary, I practiced my Tarzan yell in the forest during a walk. It needs a lot of work to say the least, but certainly gets the dog’s attention.
I am here now because my goal as a writer and educator is to encourage people to embrace their voice and express their unique creativity to make a positive difference in the world. I believe that all of us have something amazing to contribute if we are willing to share ourselves. But for me, I feel that involves speaking to audiences, running workshops, and facilitating meaningful conversations. Helping others to embrace their voice, as I embrace my own.
The first time I stepped into a Toastmasters meeting was literally 20 years ago. I was teaching elementary school, and was too afraid to follow my instincts. I still felt like a kid among all these older business people. But, in that twenty years, I moved to Seattle, earned my Masters at UW, ran a marathon, met and married my husband, traveled to Europe, had two boys who are now little dudes (9 and 10), started teaching yoga, blogging, and creating online courses. I taught myself how to grow a fantastic garden, moved to California (the Bay area) and back, and have greatly improved my mountain biking skills.
But most of all, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, care less about what others think, and answer the call to challenge myself.
To embrace my voice, and encourage others to do the same.