I am a strong believer in professional development. Any opportunity to learn and make an impact is time well spent which is why I became a member of Toastmasters.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.
As a Professor, I have become accustomed to public speaking, however with my experience, I feel that everyone (even the most expert level speaker) can benefit from joining a group like Toastmasters. Not only does it provide the opportunity to speak in front of a group, it also helps strengthen core leadership skills such as listening, critical thinking, giving feedback, empathy, and time management.
Toastmasters begins your speaking experience by allowing you to talk about a familiar subject: yourself. This is called the icebreaker.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” --The Alchemist
This quote deeply resonates with me to this day. Paulo Coelho's novel, The Alchemist, shares the story about a boy who diligently seeks his life goal of becoming an Alchemist but along the way, he discovers the life lesson of trusting in the process.
I haven't always felt "the process" was as important as the final goal, and I've taken a long, windy route to understand this, but now it shines more true than ever.
I was born and raised in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and grew up living the typical life of any Mid-Western kid: kickball, tag, tubing on the lake, racing home when streetlights came on, catching fireflies in the front yard. At 13, my life was flipped upside down when my family decided to move to California to escape some of the turmoils that were plaguing our family. When we got to California, I became increasingly withdrawn did not have the strength or outlets to succeed. At the time, I felt like I was just waiting for time to pass by. I counted down for the day that I could leave this part of my life behind.
When I got into college I looked at the opportunity as a fresh start. This was my chance to reinvent myself and put any negative experiences in the past. I began as a business major with no direction. I switched my major to the Arts in my second year on a whim and started to see my grades rise. I felt excited to be in my classes and interact with my peers.
I realized Art was always my saving grace. Since childhood, I turned to Art to cope when forced to deal with negative thoughts or troubles. I was able to make something negative into a positive from channeling my creative mind. After pursuing my Masters in Fine Arts, I immediately joined the workforce at a prestigious photo agency before my father became ill. Eventually, I made the decision to return home to be closer to family.
The irony in coming home was that while at one time, it was the last place I wanted to be, this time around it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my life goals.
I realized my purpose could be to help others who have felt negative emotions to find solace through pursuing Art through photography. After about three years of teaching photography in non-profit organizations, I began working with The David's Harp Foundation who strives “to inspire, educate and empower 'at-risk' and homeless youth to achieve academic success through music education, sound engineering and multimedia production.” We worked together to pioneer a photography program to accompany their music curriculum. Sony was a proud sponsor who generously donated photo equipment. Our partnership opened an opportunity for me to work at the Sony North American Headquarters in San Diego, California.
At Sony, I am able to work with professional photographers and continue the growth of the Sony legacy while still serving my community through The Sony Foundation and their partnership with The Boys & Girls Club.
I am humble and grateful to see my journey come full circle and encourage everyone trust in the process. It may not always take you where you want to go but most certainly will take you where you need to be.
BREAKING THE ICE:
In sharing this story I was able to "break the ice" with co-workers whom I have not had the opportunity to have a conversation with. The result from sharing the ice breaker led to a greater camaraderie amongst our group. I am now excited to attend our weekly Toastmasters meetings! Each week, I am offered the opportunity to make new connections, listen and learn about each of the members, and challenged to use the word of the day.
Toastmasters is a great resource to build core leadership skills and allows one the opportunity to network with likeminded coworkers, all with the common goal of self improvement. This professional development program provides a space to share and listen to members of your company's collective team. Toastmasters helps to build trust, encourages spontaneous collaboration, and enhances communication. I encourage you to explore outside of your comfort zone, break the ice and join Toastmasters!