Thinking Lowly of Myself

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one meeting with a professional public speaker. We grabbed a cup of coffee and swapped stories and pleasantries for couple hours, touching on what the next steps would be for me to get booked to speak. He ended by saying “Jared, you’re a great speaker, I’ve seen your video. Very personable and engaging. You’ve also got plenty of stories and life experiences to work with here. You’re going to be great.”

One would think that would be enough. Enough encouragement to knock this out of the park. Enough to pick up a phone and get started. One would think…

It’s not that I don’t believe him. It’s not whether I believe in myself. (Well, apparently it is by looking at my actions, but not in my head). I’ve spent the past few months doing research, evaluating how other speakers work. I’ll watch keynote speeches in the same genre I’m looking at doing and think, “Pshh, I could do better than that.” Or worse I’ll critique, or dismiss, or be annoyed, and tell myself that I’m totally good enough.

But here’s the difference: they’re doing it and I’m not. I’m nothing more than an ignorant, illiterate big-mouth ranting on youtube.

I looked up a website of an acquaintance who is putting himself out there as a speaker for hire. Once again, I critiqued many of the things, this time out loud to my wife. I said, “even though some of it comes across as fake, my own problem is that I’m not publicizing myself as a legitimate speaker.” She said, “YES! You won’t even let people know you have a blog. You don’t tell people about being a speaker. You don’t talk about it. And your intro on the blog is all [in a whiny voice] ‘who would even hire poor me.'”

Never one to mince words, she was spot on this time. And I listened because she’s also my biggest encourager. But in the same way that she thinks I wear rose-colored glasses when I compliment her looks, I can’t help but second-guess her words. I’ve had plenty of encouragers in my life, people who champion me. Inside I’m hoping for it, love it when it happens, then play it off as if I don’t.

This is how I’ve always been. This weird dichotomy between wanting attention and shying away; thinking highly and lowly of myself, extroverted and introverted. It has never been a real issue because I haven’t had to stick my neck out. But I want to now. So basically, I need to do something in spite of myself.

I’d say the one time I did was when I ran for city council. I didn’t like it, but I loved it. Something akin to jumping off the high-dive for the first time. “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”

Have you ever spoken to a doctor or executive who seemed to just not get it? “But he’s the doctor; why do I feel like I understand and he doesn’t?” If I have learned anything from my various experiences, it’s that people are just people. There are phenomenal people who are not living up to their potential, and others who I can not fathom how in this big, unfair, upside-down world they made it to their esteemed position. This is where I think, “why couldn’t it be me?”

So I’m just going to go for it, a little at a time. Each day closer than the day before.

There’s a line between fake-it-till-you-make-it and complete exaggeration. It’s not that I’m humble, it’s more that I don’t want to come across as arrogant. I need to find the balance between potential-me and pathetic-me.

In a small step in the right direction, let’s start with this blog’s “About Me.” This is just a journal, not a professional site (it’s coming), so rather than this former opening:

I am an aspiring public speaker, without a speech. Oh sure, I could conjure up a 5-7 minute, 3-point, heart-wrenching, moral-to-the-story speech on request, but why would someone want to hire me to stand in front of their company (org, banquet, conference, church, youth group, school) and talk? That’s what this blog is for: to help me find what I have to say that’s worth hearing. Maybe after a while I’ll step back, look at this blog, and my platform will be staring right back at me. Here’s hoping…

I’m going to write a new one that at least doesn’t sound pitiful:

I bring motivation and inspiration by speaking to non-profits, youth groups, churches, civic organizations, and businesses.  I’ve been an accomplished leader and speaker in Toastmasters for eight years as well as a semi-finalist in the World Championship of Public Speaking. Through this blog, I hope to put my thoughts on paper and narrow the focus of my speaking platform. 

Consider this another baby step taken.

Steps, not goals

I despise goals. Even though it seems to be the key factor in any “Be Successful!” book or lecture, no matter the topic. A slick public speaker will convince you goals are necessary. Vague yet inspirational quotes will be used against you. Then when a quote is utilized, it’s only to prod you to do the next thing: make goals. But I don’t wanna. I’ll admit this is a preference and some people are inspired and motivated by them.

To me they are far-fetched. Depending on the range, it’s either unrealistic or narrow-minded. I hate the overall concept. Questions like “Where do see yourself in ten years?” Ugh. Nevermind the fact that in any previous ten-year increment, I would have guessed wrong.

(That’s cause you didn’t have goals!)

Touché. But I like where I ended up, so maybe goals would’ve been worse!  D’you ever think about that?

It’s all a speculation to a degree. Seven years ago there’s no way my wife and I would’ve said a second baby is in the future. But here he is. Quite real and 100% without regret or goals. I could have never plotted on a map what my ten years at NASBA would look like. A year or so into my first entry level position, I was determined to end up in Communications or Marketing. Why wouldn’t it? My degree is in Marketing. That’s what they told me would happen in college.

Speaking of college: I had the same anti-goal attitude then. It was half-way through my junior year when my Adviser forced me to make a decision on a major. I enjoyed all kinds of topics and classes. Had any course, professor, or grade been different I might have ended up in Bible, Psychology, Music, Accounting, or Computer Science. My lame (passive, pleaser, indecisive) way of choosing was that Marketing seemed to incorporate any or all of the other topics, depending on how you swing it, so that was it. I will be an Accounting-minded Internet Marketer for the Psychology of Biblical Music. Perfect. Now to make a list of goals to get there.

Well…. not before we up and move to Florida to live on the beach for a while! My real-life proverbial slap in the face at Goals. It ended up being the “best… decision… ever” (quoting my wife just now).

BUT… while I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t just make the impossible happen because of goals, I also can’t sit on the beach and wait for blessings to fall from the sky and land in my lap. I’ve considered this dilemma in regards to wanting to do public speaking. It’s something I’m curious about, but don’t necessarily want to jump all in right now and make that goal happen! So what if I eased into it intentionally on a regular basis? Similar to my mantra about Christian living: you may have a goal to love God and love others, but it means nothing if you don’t actually do it on a day to day basis.

I think of what Dave Ramsey is known most for, the Baby Steps. You could call those goals, but actually the goal is getting out of debt, the baby steps along the way are what gets you there. In the case of Public Speaking, I’m OK if that goal ends up looking different in the end. I fully expect the future to not look like what I could imagine in the present. What I should do is be intentional now.  What is something I can do today? Anything. As long as it’s something.

My current baby steps:

  • My first thought went to my two least favorite hours each day: traffic to and from work. So I started downloading relevant podcasts, lectures, and speeches (just as soon as I’m done with Serial) for my otherwise wasted time.
  • Another actionable task was just to discover what I have to talk about, and ended up being the genesis of this blog.
  • I’m purposefully spending less time on Facebook and more following specific people/brands on Twitter.
  • I’ve put together a list of potential places to speak (Toastmasters, Chamber, Church, Youth Organizations) and have a few lined up.
  • I tried to think any connections I have to professional speakers, reached out to one, and have a meeting pending.

Not goals, but steps. Maybe I’m mincing words here, but it’s obvious to me that I’ve done more in this month than I have in years of simply having theoretical goals. Whatever happens, it will be because I took steps to get there or my direction intentionally veered as I was taking those steps. But either way I won’t be disappointed, at least not because my “goals” weren’t met, weren’t correct, or weren’t attainable. Inaction, laziness, or preoccupation will not be an excuse. I will have taken steps to get there. And in a way, it’s exciting to not know exactly what there is.