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I Thought About Quitting But Didn’t

December 12th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the very worst experiences of my life, as I shared with you in an earlier blog, was giving my very first speech. I said I was not nervous — I was scared stiff! That was at Norwood District High School in grade nine when I was thirteen. On that dismal day, thinking about public speaking, I thought about quitting, but didn’t for some reason. I guess a small part of me kept reminding me that standing up and speaking in front of others had been my childhood dream.

For years, it also topped my list of ‘Life’s Most Dreaded Activities‘, and I avoided it like the plague where I could, and reduced it to a bare minimum where I couldn’t. Things happen and in 1993 I found myself  in the psychiatric ward of a Toronto hospital with depression. There they prescribed strong drugs and I ended up with short-term brain memory damage, which I still have.

When I retired from teaching, I decided to confront my fear and follow my dream — to be an inspirational speaker. When I joined three speaking clubs (safety in numbers!), some members would remind me of the unwritten rule — ‘No notes.’ “Speak from the heart,” they would say, and I wondered where my speeches came from before I recorded them on paper, if they didn’t come from the heart. When I became president, I asked if we would bar from our stage a person with a broken leg. Or would we bar Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King, Jr. All three used notes, and none had an acquired memory deficit.

This week — more than 50 years after my very first speech — I received a telephone call, and an e-mail, from The Toronto Public Library. A young lady was asking me if I would address a group of 12 to 19-year-olds on ‘Ways to Reduce Fear in Public Speaking.’

How could I say no? After all, I had given a different speech at a different branch of the same library in May to help them celebrate their focus on Mental Health Month, and now they were asking me to give  my favourite speech! She gave me a choice of dates, asked my fee, and commented “I hear you’re a really good speaker.” (Apparently great minds do think alike!)

Comparing my feelings when addressing my classmates and teacher when I was 13, and my feelings after the library engaged me as their speaker this week, how about ‘elated’ versus ‘dejected’?

Something the way 14-year-old provincial level gymnast Denise Alivantov must feel today, compared to last year when she broke her elbow. The Peterborough Examiner staff writer Dale Clifford says that her injury kept her out of competition. Looking back at that time, when she still continued to train, she says, “I thought about quitting but didn’t and stayed with it.”

Denise must be feeling elated about her refusal last year to throw in the towel. This member of Champions Gymnastics just recently placed second out of 72 competitors at Base Borden, near Barrie. Consequently she’s been named to the eight-member Team Ontario to travel to Chicago to compete (Feb. 11 -13) in a major international event. Also sharing those feelings of elation — compared to dejection a year ago — must be her parents, Chris and Karen Alivantov of Peterborough, and grandparents Terry and Eileen Schrader of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

This young lady is not only world-class when it comes to gymnastics, she seems to know a thing or two about happiness. About the big event in Chicago, she says, “I hope I can help my teammates….” Denise’s happiness, like mine and everyone else’s, is bounce-back from doing your best to make others happy. Whether she winds up winning or losing in the contest in the windy city, she is already a winner in my book! For in the greatest competition — the competition with oneself — she didn’t give up, but dared to hold and work toward her dream.

“What is happening this season,” reports Clifford, “is helping erase the memory of the last one.” As for Denise, so also for me. What’s happening today helps erase the miserable memory. For me, the memory of a day I gave my very first speech, and virtually fell flat on my face from fear. A few years ago in Norwood, Ontario when I was thirteen.

I thought about quitting but didn’t.

Murray’s date at the Jane/Sheppard  branch of  The Toronto Public Library is 6:00 p.m. Thursday, April 14. He wrote this blog after reading online the piece by Peterborough Examiner staff writer Dale Clifford, dated Dec. 12, 2010. Murray attended the same Toastmasters club as did Denise’s maternal grandparents Eileen and Terry Schrader (and feels grateful to count himself a friend). If he can help your school by addressing the intermediate or senior students on ‘Ways to Reduce Fear in Public Speaking,’ please contact him.

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