For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved public speaking. Whether elucidating the parents’ association as a kindergartner on the critical differences between meat-eating and plant-eating dinosaurs or, many years later, talking about esoteric international rules at a tax conference, I draw energy from sharing what I know with people.
Standing at the front of the room this morning brought me back to high school. I did forensics (also known as speech and debate) all four years. Most Saturday mornings had me in an unfamiliar classroom, with half a dozen other hopefuls, waiting to give my speech. In another room, bless him, my dad, the ultimate trooper, was sitting through round after round of junior varsity extemporaneous speaking. Each school had to bring a certain number of judges based on the size of the team competing, and my dad always volunteered. When I made finals, a frequent occurrence starting my sophomore year when I abandoned extemp for declamation and original oratory, he would be there, sitting in the back of the room. Knowing how much it meant to me to do my best and be recognized for it, most days he was more nervous than I was.
Of all the presentations I’ve given, today was special. My 15-minute synthesis of my research project will not alter the course of human history, but it doesn’t have to. The engagement of the audience and the insightful questions that followed, especially from those who sought me out after, tells me that I’m not just doing work. I have work. Work with a capital double-u. What I am doing is interesting, inspiring, challenging, different, important, and necessary.
I’ve always relied on external validation and approval from others to bolster my self-image and foster my self-worth. Today didn’t give me that. Yes, people told me I did well, but that wasn’t why I felt good about it. For the first time, in possibly forever, I was proud of my work entirely on my own. That matters.
Huge thanks to my former colleague and forever friend, Dritton, for turning up to hear me speak and for his relentless encouragement.