Never Stop Learning (and Don’t Stop Believing)

 

It is 4:48am as I begin this writing session.

I should not be awake. I should not be in the office. I should not be forming complete sentences.

You see, I arrived home late yesterday after an 1100-mile weekend round-trip journey (in just over 48 hours) from the woods of New Hampshire to the even more ‘woodsy’ Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

I am a Toastmaster. I attended a Regional Conference more than 500 miles from home.

That is what Toastmasters do.

After two years in the organization, having achieved a healthy deal of recognition, I realized something this weekend:

I have so much more to learn before I even scratch the surface of what my fellow Toastmasters can teach me!

The weekend travel, begining at 2am on Friday, had its share of close-calls (3 deer, a rabbit and a squirrel) and casualties (2 butterflies, several bottles of 5-Hour Energy and my opinion that I was at (or anywhere near) my potential as a speaker).

It was humbling to see the talent present, each with different degrees of success in varying amounts of time: some have been at it for decades, others are more recent additions, yet already full of fire.

I am motivated by both.

My travel companion Sue (a fellow Toastmaster) and I shared a decision: we want to really buckle down and give our respective speaking endeavors a good kick in the butt. We spent the weekend with wide eyes, open ears and (even more important) open hearts.

The biggest reason I was present: I won the Humorously Speaking Competition for the region last Fall. To be honest, I felt I was performing at ‘cruising’ speed this weekend (as part of a showcase) and (sadly) may not have approached it with the intensity it deserved. The results were well-received, but nowhere near the greatness I know I could have displayed.

Thanks to my co-presenters, I am now more open to learning, open to possibility…and open for suggestions.

The educational presentations over the weekend were excellent, all led by Toastmasters who have taken their opportunities farther than I have been (so far) willing to take mine.

I thank them for their inspiration (Darren, Val, Vince, Dilip, Mark, etc) as well as the friends I made over the weekend (Shawn, Debra, Dan, Nicole, Robbie, Joe and so many more).

You have all impacted my life forever.

The biggest reason for the Conference was the regional round of the International Speaking Competition.

I observed more than a half-dozen contestants gracefully perform a dance that I dream of performing. They moved the audience effortlessly from laughter and tears to hopes and dreams. They were all winners, in my opionion, because they moved this humbled speaker from complacency to fascination.

My goal, complete with laundry list of activities which must be executed, is to win this International Toastmaster competition in 2010. Yes, the whole thing.

How does one set up and win his/her greatest goals?

1) identify exactly what you want (just did…wow, that is a big one!)
2) share the dream with others (for accountability, inspiration and support)
3) become familiar with those who have traveled the journey, and follow their path. Success leaves clues, as many have said.

As we arrived on Friday, after a ten-hour drive, we immediately dragged our exhausted selves into a conference room to hear a 90-minute presentation by Darren Lacroix, winner of the International Speaking Competition in 2001.

His words and message found their way though my foggy brain and (sorry Darren, not your fault) detached facial expression…and settled in my brain and heart. He told me (all of us, really, but I took it very personally) that we must always be working on ‘the’ speech, perfecting and crafting it until we know every nuance. We also need to find someone whom we trust to be our accountability partners, to coach and support us on our journey.

He also reminded us to believe in ourselves and our talents…always.

Thank you Darren. Thank you all.

I will never forget this experience.

I will always be learning.

Don’t stop believing.

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