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.

Obey Your Thirst

Our church had a men’s retreat with the theme “Obey Your Thirst.” I was asked to do a devotional and was happy to have a speaking opportunity. So the following is that “speech.”

“Obey Your Thirst” is an imperative statement, telling you to do something. It first assumes that you have a Thirst: the thing that you should be doing or want to be doing. Second it assumes that you are not doing it. OBEY your thirst. You have a thirst, now go do something about it!

Yeah, but….

“Yeah, but..” It’s the beginning of a phrase that blocked millions of great things from happening.
Conquer your goals. Yeah! But..
Humble yourself and apologize. Yeeaah… but..
Make friends with that lonely person. Yeah, but..

This one happen to me recently, we had a new employee that didn’t fit the young millennial demographic of my IT dept. He was a little older, of Indian descent (I think), English as a second language. So against my will, I struck up a conversation with him in the break room. Something about drinking lemon water. The next day I was the only one he said “Hello!” to coming in to work. He would awkwardly stand at my desk attempting conversation. I would feel compelled to stick with him in social settings when I’d rather be with others. (This is middle school kind of stuff, isn’t it?) It was a horrible selfish feeling, wanting to be nice but not the side effects. But hey, he quit after 3 weeks, so I guess I caught a break there.  But next time this scenario comes up, I’ll have my excuse trump card ready to use. Remember how weird it was last time? 

We men love excuses. All the way from the beginning of time. Adam: yeah but the woman gave me the fruit. Moses: yeah but they won’t listen to me, and I can’t speak well. Jeremiah: yeah but I’m too young and can’t speak well either. That excuse didn’t work for Moses, didn’t work for Jeremiah either.

The most legitimate reason to use an excuse is when it’s true or real. Maybe in that case, it’s not an excuse as much as it is an obstacle or hurdle to overcome. But whether you’re telling yourself that it’s scary, or boring, or not worth your time, if you really thirst to live like Jesus, then you need to recognize your excuses and deal with them.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man, and both are faced with various obstacles. This story may not really be about Obeying your Thirst, but I’d like to go through the passage a little at a time and examine the different obstacles and how they could have been used as excuses, or what we might do or say if a similar situation happened in our life. So see if you can relate to any of these situations when life gets in the way and you have a decision on whether or not to obey your thirst.

1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.

There. Already. An opportunity to use an excuse.

Excuse: I was born this way. This is just who I am. This is how it’s always been.

2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

Those that will try and trick you, confuse you, deceive you. Jesus had a number of ways he could have dealt with this situation.

Excuse: They’ll second-guess me. I’ll be questioned.

3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

When something bad happens to us, how many times do we say “poor pitiful me” instead of “how can I use this to glorify God?”

4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” 6 When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”

He slapped mud on this dude’s face.

Excuse: It’s different from what I’m used to. It’s uncharacteristic, unorthodox.

So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. 8 Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.”

Excuse: There will be Arguments, Deniers. No one believes me. No one believes in me.

He kept saying, “I am the one.” 10 So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?”

Excuse: People will question me. Question my motives, question my intentions.

11 He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight.

People being persistent. Nagging, bothering. Are you being stubborn? How many times have you not done something simply because you were asked to do it more than once? (e.g. Honey, were you going to take out the trash?)

And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”

When religion gets in the way.

Excuse: Others will argue about my religion/practice. Difference in opinion.

But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.

Association with a certain group.

Excuse: What will others think of me? “You’re one of them.”

17 So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”

Excuse: They will demand proof/answers. I will be questioned later.

18 The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, 19 and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?”

Pulling family into it.

Excuse: It will affect my kids/spouse.

20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”

Excuse: Laziness, not willing to get involved.

22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.

Excuse: Fear. Uphill battle. Going against people who have made up their minds.

23 For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.”

Excuse: People with a different viewpoint.

30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 

The blind man’s theology isn’t perfect but he didn’t let it keep him back.

Excuse: Not smart enough. Afraid of Embarrassment.

34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

Excuse: Being dismissed. Being ignored.

35 Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Excuse: Ignoring God when He is speaking to you.

36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

What’s your thirst? Andy Stanley said it this way: rather than asking what are your resolutions, or goals, instead what is it that breaks your heart? That’s your thirst. What’s that thing that bothers you or keeps you up at night? What could you be doing about it? Why aren’t you? What’s your excuse?

Here are a few takeaways I gathered from this story on how to overcome excuses.

Use Discernment
Jesus at the beginning knew he was being attacked and had to be intentional with how it was approached.
Many of you know that we have been foster parents, and will be again someday. That’s our thirst. But we’re not doing it now for various “excuses” if you will, including having a new baby. When asked in the past to take a foster child, we steer away from those with sexual abuse or who may be potentially physically abusive, all to protect our own family/kids. We’re using the best discernment we can while still obeying our thirst honestly. There are certain precautions you can take that aren’t necessarily excuses.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
The Pharisees were so focused on keeping their way of life going, that they missed God being right in front of them. In a bind, see if one way or the other can hold up to a litmus test against a verse or two:
Mark 12: 30-31 Love God, Love Others as yourself
Micah 6:8 Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with your God
Philippians 4:8 Whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, commendable

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
The blind man got sick of the drama and you see a complete change in his language when he finally sees Jesus. Don’t lose focus of what the ultimate goal is: to love others the way God loves us through your specific passion.

Stick to What You Know
It’s probably not as complicated as you want to make it. It’s probably not as bad as you fear it might be. Most likely you know what it is you should be doing anyway. Obey your thirst. It’s your purpose. It’s why you were created. When pressed, the blind man stuck to what he knew: “Here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing. The one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Jus’… do it

As reiterated millions of times, one of the most familiar and long-standing marketing slogans in the history of slogans is Nike’s “Just do it.” As parents, we use this phrase almost as many times as we ask kids to do something. And not in a Shia LaBeouf kind of way, but more in an exhausted manner. Slightly slurred with a hint of desperation and inferred begging: jus’… doit.

The same tone I whisper to myself when the alarm goes off (on the 3rd snooze). When I have to go talk to someone I really don’t want to go talk to. Sitting in the car, before you turn the key, dreading your destination.

Sometimes it’s used with the opposite motivation. “I shouldn’t have a cookie. But it looks so good. I told myself I wouldn’t. Oh, they have white chocolate macadamia nut. Stop staring, just do it.”

I wonder how many things we could accomplish by just doing whatever it is we’ve been contemplating. In quitting smoking, it’s called going Cold Turkey. But really you just finally made the decision to do it. One of the only times in high school where I actually called a girl to ask her out was under the influence of “just do it,” surrounded with encouraging phrases, like

“at least it won’t kill you”

“no one else has to know”

“it’s over the phone so you can still save face”

“worst she can say is no… or is it???”

But really, I got sick of my pathetic-ness and dialed. Her mom answered and said she was out of town for the rest of the summer. See! It didn’t kill me and no one has to know, till now. I don’t even remember her name. But I did it! Sort of.

Fast forward to now. My wife decided to make healthier food choices in January. For her sake and my own, I decided to do it with her. The past couple months I pretty much gave up doing anything healthy because the holidays are a minefield of temptations. Office parties, potlucks, Christmas cookies, my famous Christmas Punch, Salted Caramel Lattes, I could go on. And I did. Many times. And it was glorious.

But it put me up to an all time high weight. Knowing that the problem was my substandard food choices, I knew all I had to do was cut out bread and sugar and it would make a significant difference.  So on New Years Eve I drank my last Sun Drop, and stuffed myself with junk food. One last hurrah! Then went back out to get another Sun Drop. One more last Hurrah!  Then… it was the weekend.

Oh no. The weekend. I didn’t factor this in to the equation. We typically hit restaurants in the time between the food at home running out and Sunday night’s grocery trip. Oh the temptations! Qdoba, Wendy’s, Zaxby’s (Zax sauce), and they all have those new 100 flavor touch-screen Coke machines. So what did I do?

I just did it. The healthier choice that is. Seriously. It’s a coke. How utterly pathetic am I if I can’t say no to a drink choice? Just do it. I got a salad each time instead of a sandwich. It’s not difficult. At all. I’ve lost 5 pounds in a week. Good grief, just do it.

My wife worked as an Meeting Planner at NASA in Cape Canaveral, visited a friend’s office once and asked what he was working on. “Well…. we’re trying to figure out how to get to Mars.” OK. That’s difficult. It is NOT difficult to overcome discouragement when comparing the communion juice cup sized free water to the movie-themed, free-refills, 32oz “medium” cup. Anything that could be categorized as a First World Problem is not difficult.

Maybe this falls in line with the modern day, catered, spoiled brat syndrome (that’s a medical term). We like to dramatize everything to the point where it feels just as hard, but it’s not. I’ve been dragging my feet with this Public Speaking idea for about a year and a half. Ever since I won the District contest and had the thought that maybe, just maybe I’m actually good enough. If you want something, you have to ask for it, right? Just do it. So I did at the easiest of opportunities, the chamber meeting where I’m a member, the church’s men’s retreat, our Toastmaster meetings (anything counts), and others I’m queuing up. Idea is to always have a speech scheduled ahead of me to be working on. Progress is happening. Cause I’m a genius? Cause of all the podcasts? Cause of a how-to guide? No. I just did it.

Two caveats: (aren’t there always)

First. Yes of course there are real problems that might take something extra to accomplish. Actual serious addictions. Medical factors. Rare opportunistic situations. Obviously not every want can be instantaneous.

Second. I’ve been endlessly listening to podcasts, lectures, and interviews for the past few weeks. Once in a while there’s a nugget of info that sticks with me. One today was to combine the undesirable thing you should do with something you want to do, like only watch your favorite show while on the treadmill (credit: Christine Carter). That’s a neat idea. There’s nothing wrong with finding an avenue, or a gimmick, or an app that helps get it done. Just do it!

So try this experiment. Find the smallest possible change you would want to make. Going to bed on time. One less coffee. Not looking at your phone during church. Then do it. It’s downright silly how empowering it is to overcome the most menial challenge. Congrats, you get a gold star.

NO! You do not get a gold star! JUST DO IT, you baby!

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean to yell… *sigh*

jus’… do it

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.