Saturday, March 2, 2013

Toastmasters Contest Update!

Folks have been asking for a video of my contest speech, here it is! EDIT: Snagged Second place at the Devision, and Third at the District. What a wild ride!

Also if you're interested in the text of how the speech might have gone, you can have that too. It'll get some tweaks (and much more practice) between here and the District contest. Once I figure out how far I get to take this speech, I'll fill in a lot more of the details around how it came to be, as well as the thoughts that went into it. For now, this is all the peeks behind the curtain that you get.

Hidden Genius

I was once told that I am a lazy writer. Imagine yourself in 7th grade. You are 13 years old. You are on the burgeoning precipice that is puberty. You have dreams, you have plans, and you are pre-eminently vulnerable. There you are 13 year old, seventh grade, you are told by your english teacher in front of your entire english class “you are a lazy writer,” a single grade on a single assignment and an entire part of your mind has been cast off as worthless. Fast forward 5 years and you're graduating, convinced that writing isn't worth the hassle, with your good grades in math and science you are convinced you are an engineer. Fast forward another five years and here I am finishing engineering school, convinced that I am not an engineer because; what happened when I got engineering school; what I discovered, was that I am not very good at calculus, I nearly failed out of school because of thermodynamics. I nearly failed because the things engineers do most, turn patterns into numbers and numbers into physical objects are things that run counter to how my brain works. Despite my excellent grades in math and science. Because as it turns out poets do not make very good engineers.

Before I say another word. I want to say this, we are all brilliant.

Others of you may have been told that you’re not smart, not smart enough. By classmates, or by teachers, or by a standardized test score.

Be that as it may, whatever teachers, peers or tests may say, you are brilliant.

The trouble started for me, as it starts for everyone when we start teaching kids in schools to value certain kinds of intelligence over others. As Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized advocate for creativity in education has noted, every institutionalized education system in the world has the same hierarchy of subjects. Math and science are at the top and with them logical intelligence, linguistics and writing after that, the humanities after that and then finally the arts.

Imagine then, although some of you know full well, if you were gifted in one of those intelligences on the “lower end of the academic totem pole” in a society where compulsory education focuses nearly all of it’s resources  on the other intelligences.

Allow me to draw a parallel from the animal kingdom. In the Serengeti of africa there is nothing better than the Giraffe at picking the leaves off the tops of trees. They are the very best at what they do. Salmon are also in their own way the very best at what they do. No fish can swim upstream with as much strength and determination, as Salmon can.

Many of our schools today are asking Salmon to try their best to pick the leaves of the top of trees.*toss a salmon into the air, watch it fall*  It’s a silly image isn’t it?
What happened to me, as happens to countless other engineers in training, is I managed to catch a few leaves in my mouth on the way down and I was labeled a giraffe. Good grades in math and science labeled me as an engineer before anyone including me could take the time to figure out what I was really skilled at.

But now I know I am not a giraffe. I am not an engineer. I am a poet. I take patterns in the world and I turn them into words that impact people. Knowing that there is no limit to what I can accomplish as a speaker, as a writer, and as an agent for change in the world.

Another story, borrowed from Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element”. about Gillian Lynne, When Gillian Lynne was a little girl, she could not sit still in school, she fell behind in all of her coursework, she couldn’t focus. Her mother and her teacher became concerned and brought her in to a counselor who listened while her teachers explained everything that was going wrong in the class room. And he watched as Gillian sat on her hands and tried not to be too much of a bother. After they had finished explaining he asked for her teacher to leave the room. Once it was just little Gillian Lynne, her mother and the counselor, he turned on his radio.Music began to play. and Gillian began to dance. After the song had ended, the counselor turned his radio back off and quietly explained. “She’s not sick, she’s a dancer.” Gillian Lynne went on to have a successful career in solo ballet, and to choreography where she would meet Andrew Lloyd Webber and choreograph Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Two of the greatest hits broadway has ever known.

I want to share these stories with you to show you how simple it can be to harness a lifetime of brilliance, even your own. Find the passion in the hearts and lives around you. And nurture them, support them, give them what they need to grow, mentor them if you can. You might unlock a hidden genius.

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