I am what I am

I am, what I am

Do you currently feel outside of your comfort zone? If the answer is yes, then you’re not alone. If the answer is no, then you’re missing an opportunity to grow, and I hope that this short story, about a recent experience of mine will encourage you to seek opportunities to better yourself both personally and professionally.

Public speaking to large crowds of people has never been something I ever felt any good at and it’s something I have been largely able to avoid throughout my career. After all, who wants to put themselves into a position where they feel out of their depth and cause themselves unnecessary stress and anxiety? However, over the years I have realised that confronting these things head on by operating outside your comfort zone is a critical component to personal growth.

So, I finally did something about my public speaking challenge thanks to some advice from a colleague [Jane White] and, a few months ago, joined Toastmasters International which is a US headquartered, non-profit educational organisation that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of promoting communication, public speaking, and leadership. I joined the club in Plymouth and as part of the educational pathway, I have been challenged to speak to audiences on various topics.

My first speech was called “I am what I am” and is based on a quote from Charlie Chaplin:

“I am what I am: an individual, unique and different, with a lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings; a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, all of which I am the sum total.

The pathway and club provide a safe environment to learn and prepare for my first speech. But, even so, as the days counted down to the big day, I felt the pressure building and had to spend time in the evenings and weekends to prepare for this inaugural speech. I have to admit there were times when I thought about delaying it as I was too busy at work and I would be better resourced to do it in 4 weeks. Thankfully, I kept to the mission and set myself some small goals, creating a plan taking me up to the day of the speech. I found that this really helped and each time I met the goal I felt an achievement which gave me the motivation to reach the next goal and so on.

Writing the content was the easy part; reflecting on whether it was DNA, life experience or both which made me who I am today. Having done some research, I concluded there is no easy answer and therefore felt that it was a combination of both. I touched on my humour which I know I got from my father, he was a funny man, and like me enjoyed the “work hard, play hard” motto. At the end of it all I really enjoyed writing because it came from a place of interest and desire to better myself. 

After plenty of practice the night finally arrived, and I had to deliver this first public speech to a virtual audience, hearing the words “ready when you are”. There was almost a moment of “oh no” but the robot switched on and I went and delivered my talk. Throughout the speech I continually focused on body language, facial expressions, vocal tone as well as remembering my cues which were on a little cheat sheet stuck to my screen (the benefit of virtual presenting!).

On finishing the speech, I felt like I had been on an emotional rollercoaster and I felt shattered later that evening but also elated after a real humbling amount of positive feedback from the evaluator. I am now planning my second speech, so if anyone has any ideas for my next topic do let me know.

Why am I bothering writing this? Well, it’s certainly not to bore you. I hope to inspire and encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I have always been an advocate for the saying “you reap what you sow” and opportunities rarely land on laps, so seek out those opportunities and don’t give up. I am still in the ‘sow’ stage but hope, one day, to be able to stand on stage in front of a large audience and achieve my long-term goal. Hard work does pay off and I encourage you to go and grab any opportunities out there for self-betterment and above all else – pride!

Paul Jones, Chief Information Officer

Photo by Aatik Tasneem on Unsplash

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