In my first speech for the Toastmasters Club, called the Ice-breaker speech, I had intentionally added a line to point out the reason I joined Toastmasters. I had said, I wanted to be myself when I speak on the stage. What I meant was that I did not want to be affected by the external factors like the size and composition of the audience, the size of the stage etc. or the internal factors like my own nervousness, mental state etc. After some amount of introspection, I remember adding this statement as a deliberate attempt to speak my mind. I love to use a conversational style while speaking on stage and I knew that if I had to succeed, I had to focus on my strengths - my smile and my ability to connect with people at an individual level.
6 projects and umpteen Club roles and responsibilities later, here I am, with a completely different agenda. If you ask me the same question, ‘Why did you join Toastmasters?’ now, my answer would be completely different. Today, I will say that I want to inspire people. I want to give my listeners something to take back with them when they leave the venue, something that they can replicate in their own lives for their own success.
On introspection, I am still amazed at the kind of transformation that just a few months of being in Toastmasters has brought about in me. How easily and smoothly I have moved from making it all about ‘me’ to making it about ‘others’ now. I now realize that Toastmasters is a great place to inspire others and learn from others at the same time.
In keeping with this new-found love for inspiring people, I am going to share with you 3 simple words, which if followed, will ensure that you have a fulfilling life. They are ‘Explore, Own, and Payback’. Once you understand each of these words thoroughly, you will start looking at your life and problems in a different light.
Let me start with a question. How many of us can confidently say that we know ourselves? When I say ‘know’, I don’t mean it at a superficial level, but at a very deep level. What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, what will make you happy and what do you really hate…I have personally asked these questions to others, and the responses tell me that not many! So the first thing to do is to ‘Explore’ yourself. Exploration can be of two types – Introspection or Feedback.
Introspection is a very useful way of getting to know yourself. Sit alone somewhere and ask yourself, questions like, what are your values, what do you like doing, what are you passionate about etc. Once you get a satisfactory answer to these questions, evaluate your life and see if your life is in sync with who you really are. If you realize that your life is not in sync, go ahead and make the hard decision that will bring ‘life’ to your life.
Feedback is another way of getting to know yourself. I know that I am a fun-loving, easy-going person. But do other think the same way or do they think that I am difficult and arrogant? The best way to know how others perceive you is to get feedback from others, it could be your parents, siblings, mentors, spouse, or a colleague, i.e. basically anyone you can trust. Take a good look at yourself from another person’s eyes and that is when you’ll realize who you truly are and then you can decide if you want to remain being that person or not! Just try it out.
For example, almost 3 years ago, I was totally unsatisfied with my career. I was a software engineer and I knew I did not enjoy it at all. I am a people-person. Sitting at a desk talking to computers all day! That’s definitely not me. I did a lot of introspection, got feedbacks and by the end of it all, I knew I had to do something about it. That’s how I decided to pursue my passion for Marketing. But another problem arose - I had been happily married for almost 2.5 years by then and everyone around me (including my parents, my in-laws and the society in general, as is the case in India) were expecting me to settle down, have kids etc. And I wanted to do exactly the opposite – I would be staying away from my husband for the next 2 years pursuing an MBA in Marketing. My husband was really supportive about it and asked me to tread with confidence. But it didn’t come as an easy option.
Even after I joined my B-School, I did get some frowns and puzzled looks from my friends when they got to know that I was married. I knew what the looks meant – ‘You left your husband and travelled over 3000 kilo meters (roughly 1750 miles) to study?’ One of my male friends even passed a seemingly innocuous comment that ‘I would never let my wife do this sort of thing. Why get married in the first place, if you are to stay separately!’ But I waded through it all. This brings me to my next point, which is ‘Own’.
Once you explore and find out what you want in life, the next option is to own up to it. There will be umpteen hurdles to bring you down, but you have to realize that you made that choice for a reason. Another thing that people do at this stage is comparison. One of my friends tell me that she got married and is struggling with a kid, whereas her colleague (who is at almost the same level as her) is still a bachelor and is moving out of the country on a new role. The thing to understand here is that, it doesn’t matter! You are here because of the choices you made, and the other person is there because he made another set of choices. You can’t compare apples and oranges! The only thing you can do is own up to the decisions you made and move on in life. In the long run, you will definitely benefit from the choices you make today.
The next word you need to be aware of, is 'Payback'. Once you are in a comfortable (after you explore and own) position in your life, you can think about paying back to the society. Payback has to start now, not when you are 50 and have nothing better to do. As Toastmasters, Service is one of our key pillars (RISE – Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence); I need not speak much about Payback to you. Just like Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pointed out in her Valedictory speech,
If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some unfortunate person just as you were helped.
As a parting note, just keep in mind that once you follow these 3 words of wisdom – Explore, Own and Payback, I am sure you will get one step closer to an enriching and happy life.