“I have to quit Toastmasters,” I told my boss at our one-on-one meeting.
“Every Wednesday morning before the meetings, I spend most of my time dry heaving in the bathroom.”
My boss explained that part of my job involved communication skills, and eventually presentation skills as well. She said I needed to stay in Toastmasters.
I had Social Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know the name for it at that point, but that’s exactly what it was. It’s a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others. I experienced it during meetings, and way back to when I had my first oral book report in grade school. Even talking on the phone was uncomfortable.
“I CAN’T do this!” I sobbed to myself that night. “Some people can do public speaking and some people can’t. I can’t. I am NOT one of those people who can do this!”
I seriously considered quitting my job – the first good job I ever had with a decent salary and benefits. I was single, trying to live the independent life on my own, hundreds of miles away from my family.
I toughed it out for a couple more years, then went back to my boss to tell her Toastmasters still wasn’t working for me.
She asked if I had given it my best.
Truthfully, I had done the bare minimum. I came to meetings every so often, whenever I had a club role to fill. I never served as a club officer, and only delivered four speeches out of the ten needed for my Certified Toastmaster (CTM) award.
I told my boss I’d give it one more shot – my best shot. But this time I was doing it for myself. Was it possible to get my CTM? I fantasized about giving that tenth speech. I wanted to believe I COULD DO IT.
I volunteered as a club officer, Sergeant-at-Arms, for selfish reasons. It was a way to force myself to come to every meeting, because the Sergeant-at-Arms’s main responsibility was to set up the meeting room every week.
As an officer, I was introduced to what leadership truly is. I realized how much I loved my Toastmasters Club, and wanted it to thrive. So I volunteered to finish my CTM that year.
Heads turned in the officer group. “How many speeches do you have left?” An officer asked me.
I admitted, “Six.” There were 8 months left to complete this goal. My average up to this point was one speech every six months. I knew the other officers silently doubted I could do it, and it only fueled my passion to prove everyone, including my inner critics, wrong.
Three months passed with only one speech accomplished.
Crunch time. I now had four months to plan and present five speeches. No more procrastinating, I told myself. Are you serious about this, or what?
Yes, I answered. I am going to do this.
And I did.
In that four-month span, I grew more than ever. I realized I was brave, I learned that speaking with sincerity was a valuable gift of mine, and most surprisingly I was able to see myself as a leader.
After receiving my CTM award, I went on to earn “Toastmaster of the Year” from my club. The same thing happened the following year when I jumped in the officer ranks enthusiastically to VP of Education.
Over the next few years I continued to earn the Competent Leader Award three times, and my Advanced Communicator Bronze. And finally I found the confidence to run and serve as President of my club.
Wow. I went from a phobic Social Anxiety case to President of my Toastmasters Club within a span of four years.
It hasn’t stopped there.
I now facilitate Creative Women’s Retreats, teach creative workshops and tele-classes live, recorded audios and videotaped myself for my business purposes, and I recently launched an online radio show. The business I run is almost entirely focused on my interaction with people – something I used to avoid like the plague. Toastmasters literally changed my life!
I DID it!
And if there’s one thing I know, it is this… If I can do it, anyone can.
That means you, too, dear reader.