What I Learned from My First Speech

I am a firm believer in lifetime learning. If you aren’t growing, moving forward and seeking new experiences, life can become routine, boring and just plain hard. Now I don’t mean that I am always so focused on the future that I miss the pleasures of the present, far from it. Nor would I dare say that at times I haven’t been drawn into yearning for things and people whose time has passed. My view is that you revel in the present and look to the future. You then enhance your current moment and improve your chances of enjoying the future when it becomes the present.

Following my personal philosophy, I joined a local Toastmasters International chapter. For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, it is an organization developed to help people develop their public speaking skills. Our group is a fun, supportive, well educated collection of people who meet every other week for an hour to offer encouragement to each other as we travel down the road toward earning our Competent Communicator and/or Competent Leader title.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of giving my first speech (The Icebreaker) before the group. The Icebreaker is designed to get you up and speaking in front of an audience while remembering to breathe. I have never had a problem with public speaking, in fact, it is something I enjoy very much. My fondest dream (and goal) is to get my book published, develop seminars to complement it, and tour the country. (Of course, in my dream – and goal – the appearance on Oprah will help me become a household name, just remember you saw me here first…)

I have had the date for my speech for several weeks. The TMI handbook suggests practicing your speech a good bit, making sure the timing is correct and you are comfortable, etc. Many people practice their speech in front of family and friends to be sure they are truly prepared. I began preparing in my mind by picking the title: My Life of Passion. This came with a disclaimer that it was not an X Rated sort of passion I was going to discuss, but rather my passion for life and the many wondrous experiences available to us. Ideas drifted into my conscious (and obviously my subconscious) mind about the body and contents of the speech, and I knew for a closing I would use a favorite quote by George Carlin, but I put nothing on paper. The night before last, as I drove home from work and climbed into bed, (I get home from work around 11pm), more ingredients of the speech presented themselves to me. I tossed them into the pot to let them simmer. Yesterday morning while having my teeth cleaned, I reviewed a bit, then while on the acupuncturists table, rearranged a bit more (like tasting a stew and adding a bit of seasoning). From the acupuncturist I went directly to my meeting, a few lines of notes and my George Carlin quote in hand. The rest was still percolating in my mind. I was terrified. Not of getting up in front of people and speaking, I love to do that. The fear was of failing. I had not prepared the way the manual had instructed me to, I had not even written a speech, per se, much less practiced it. I was sure I would speak for 45 seconds, run out of words and slink back to my chair in shame and disgrace….. You would think that after 48 years, I would know myself a little better. For starters, me run out of words??? A highly unlikely scenario (I can get many family members and co-workers to verify the absurdity of this notion, should you doubt me!)
After having taught horseback riding lessons for over 20 years, thinking on my feet really isn’t a problem, nor is improvisation. I would know before I went in to teach a lesson what my basic goals were, but I didn’t have the words scripted and ready. I had to respond to what was happening with the rider and the horse. I had to be able to make it up as I went along, and that is how I presented my speech. I made it up as I went along.

Making it up as one goes along is usually viewed in a negative light. It smacks of a free spirited, undisciplined individual who hasn’t paid his or her dues, done the time, walked the talk. But I challenge you to live your day today without making it up as you go along, at least in some small manner. You are having a conversation with someone at work. You can’t foretell what the other person is going to say and exactly the words you will use to respond. You make it up as you go along. Traffic is bad, dinner is burned, the washing machine doesn’t pump out, all the treadmills at the gym are being used….. you make it up as you go along.

So, just for today, be aware of the opportunities you have to extemporize. Let go a little bit and see where life is willing to take you. Don’t be too afraid to make it up as you go along. You never know, you may discover that the real you has a chance to shine through in ways you never imagined. Who knows – you may even get a standing ovation….. I did.

Lessons from a Crepe Myrtle Part 2

I have spent much of my life working outside and with animals. Perhaps because of this, I have always been aware of the ebb and flow of the seasons and its effect on the patterns of my life. I always seem to be more reflective at this time of year. As the days grow shorter, I begin to turn inward, seeking comfort and solace in my nest. The old pagan idea of the spring being the beginning of the year has always made sense to me. New life is breathed into us as the light and warmth of the longer days foster a sense of hope and renewal. The common thread running through the rhythms of the universe and those of my life make me feel part of something much greater than can ever be explained by, or credited to, my own actions.

As I cut away the excess branches and foliage to reveal the true form and beauty of the tree, I thought about life and pruning. It seems counterintuitive to cut away something healthy and vigorous to enhance life. But often it is necessary to do so in order to discover the true essence of ones own unique gifts. My reading habits favor the philosophy of business/life /personal improvement genre (among many, many others). One of the common threads woven through these works is to find your own strengths and nurture them. Revel in your gifts. Bloom where you are planted. In order to fully embrace your own unique self, you must be aware of where it lies. It is at your very core, your soul, your roots. Prune away the superfluous, the peripheral, and you will be able to discover your truth.

Lessons from a Crepe Myrtle

Lessons from a Crepe Myrtle

I love gardens. I love looking at them. I love reading about them. I love walking in them. I love having them. I even often love working in them. A problem arises, however, because there are many other things I love as well. And like so many other important things in my life, garden work is seldom urgent. Going to work, buying the groceries, paying the bills, doing the laundry – these things are often urgent. They act upon us. They are time sensitive and make their neediness known in a myriad of ways, few of them subtle. To a certain extent, we can prevent things from becoming urgent by being proactive. Shop before there is no milk, do the laundry before you are late for work and have only one clean sock (which, of course, bears absolutely no resemblence to the outfit you’re wearing…), pay the electricity bill while the lights are still on. We can save ourselves time, money and frustration if we act on our important items before they become urgent and act upon us. Gardening falls into this category, and my crepe myrtle is a perfect illustration. We have been in our lovely old house for about 2 1/2 years now, and for a good portion of that time, I have been wanting to prune the crepe myrtle. It hadn’t been done for quitea while before we bought the house, and the graceful lines and beautiful bark of the trunks were obscured amongst dozens of wayward branches, a grape vine, a hibiscus and an incredibly healthy lot of poison ivy. Today’s weather is perfect for outdoor activities such as pruning. Beautifully clear, warm, low humidity. I found my pruners and went to work.

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