How do you know when you’re on the right path?
If I feel like a salmon swimming upstream then that’s a pretty good indication I’m not going in the right direction. But how do you know when your effort is simply you working hard versus you working hard on a trajectory that isn’t going anywhere? This is my story about how I found my path, or more accurately how two strangers pointed me in the right direction.
After 20+ years telling everyone I was an actor that wasn’t acting in anything and a public speaker that didn’t speak to people, I decided to pursue my passion; acting and performing. I saw it as a perfect compliment to my new writing career as a blogger. I like the idea of creating and performing my own material while also getting to act in other projects. A dream job.
I’d been doing Toastmasters for almost 2 years and was using it to present my voice and practice my public speaking all while getting feedback on my message, personality and “brand.” I would write my blog posts and then perform them for my clubs; to see what landed and what fell flat.
I felt that I was firmly on my new path.
At the same time, I decided to jump into the world of competitive speaking. I am inspired by being amongst strong competitors and by performing my best. Their excellence makes me want to figure out how I can do even better. Plus, winning is really fun and satisfying; the feeling of success is addictive! But here’s the rub. I actually learn and grow more when I don’t win.
When I don’t win, I ask a lot of questions: Was I unique? Did I deliver my message? Was I memorable? What can I learn from other performers? What didn’t I do?
When I win, I don’t ask those questions. Winning a contest is a big fat bowl of praise. It tastes good but I don’t get much from it.
There is a fantastic article by Art Markman on Fast Company, “How our brains process praise and why it’s killing our potential” that does an amazing job explaining why we don’t learn from praise.
So what’s better than winning and getting all that praise?
Recognizing when you’re on the right path. That’s easy to say but really hard to actually see. Unless you’re totally self-aware, you’re going to need a jarring experience or someone you’re open to hearing to tell you what you’ve been too focused to notice. You’re on the wrong path.
A pattern had indeed been happening but I didn’t notice. I was too focused that I didn’t see it. It took two strangers saying the same thing that gave me the self awareness I needed. And that awareness is liberating!
I had decided to pursue acting with public speaking as an additional skill (contrary to popular thought, NOT all actors are good at public speaking) but my auditions weren’t going great. To put it simply, I’m a lot. My face is highly expressive and I wear my personality and emotions. I am very much a character actor with a very unique flavor. It was hard to find much success with my auditions or in getting new people to see my value. I was working really hard on a path that clearly wasn’t working for me.
It was frustrating.
I decided to use the Toastmasters public speaking contests as a way to show off who I was. Teach people how to see me while gaining national and international exposure. I liked this path!
I started to pour all of my energy into my prepared speeches for competition and as an additional challenge, I also competed in impromptu speeches. And I started winning contests and in equal measure, losing contests. I wasn’t winning the contests I had worked so hard on; my prepared speech. The contests I kept winning, with relative ease and at the highest levels, were the impromptu speeches; Table Topics and Evaluations.
And yet, I still didn’t get it.
I saw those wins as ironic and doubled down on trying to win with a prepared speech. Those wins weren’t remarkable because they were easy. I treated them as an afterthought.
The whole point of impromptu speaking is that you show up and let your personality, creativity and quick wit take the lead. The whole point of a prepared speech is to perform a finely crafted, well-written inspirational talk. I wasn’t using my strengths when I was crafting my prepared speeches but I was reflectively using them in my impromptu speeches. Still, I didn’t get notice the pattern.
Enter the first stranger, Ron Ben-Joseph.
Among his many talents and skills, he works with actors and entrepreneurs (hey, that’s me!) by helping them develop their message and define their brand. I needed help in defining and finding my brand as an actor and public speaker. Ron was recommend to me by my fellow actor Robin Zavala. I was excited to see if he could help me like he helped Robin. Her career was taking off and I wanted some of that stardust!
I had two goals in mind with Ron. First, I wanted help with learning how to land my auditions. Second, I wanted help with defining me as a brand. I needed clarity with the whole “who am I” question. I clearly wasn’t doing a good job in expressing it at my auditions or in my speeches.
It took Ron all of 2 minutes to figure me out. He validated me while throwing a curveball I didn’t see coming. The long and short of his remark was this.
“Fuck acting. You’re a comedian. Stop wasting your time on other people’s work. Let’s make you a one-woman show.”
Pause. Hold for laughter. No laughter. He was serious.
All of a sudden, everything started making sense. Me, a comedian. That explains so much about my strengths and weaknesses. OMG. I’m a comedian. Maybe I should just call myself a humorous storyteller? Comedian seems so… bold. Ron didn’t give two shits what I called it, he had immediate confidence and clarity on my path.
Fuck it. Comedian it is.
Sitting with this new perception of myself is odd. I’m beginning to define what that looks like and how I want to express it. It’s exhilarating, completely foreign and immediately comfortable. My big question is, “Will anyone else see the comedian in me?”
I got that answer pretty quickly.
I competed in the 2019 District 26 Toastmasters International Speech Contest this past weekend that I both won and didn’t win. My Evaluation Speech, the impromptu speech, took First Place while my International Speech, the prepared speech didn’t even place. The pattern was there… but I still didn’t see it!!!
Enter the second stranger.
After my impromptu speech win, I was congratulated by the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix. He had some things he wanted to tell me but even better than his words was the fact that I was ready to hear him. Darren didn’t talk about my win. Instead, he talked what he saw in me. He said everything I wanted to hear about my talent, my potential and my ability.
The trophy and the win were irrelevant. Darren saw what I was supposed to be doing; he called me a natural, a comedian. He compared me to GILDA RADNER. I mean, really. That man is now my friend for life.
The next night when I didn’t win the International Speech, the one I had been so focused on, I finally got it. I saw the pattern that had been right in front of me the whole time.
When I expressed my true self, I succeeded. When I was funny, I won. And when I let me shine through, I was walking on my path. Thank you universe for adjusting my course. I’m going with the flow! I’m on my path.