Who Are You Calling Weak?

First, Happy Mothers Day! It’s well after 9am, and I am the first one up, so I’m taking the opportunity to spend a few minutes writing.

I could tell you about the worst Mothers Day I ever had (it actually started the night before, including me in the ER), but that’s probably a story for another time. Instead, let me tell you how I spent my day yesterday.

I got a sitter and traveled about 40 minutes away to an insurance company in Marin County where I, along with 500 other members of Toastmasters clubs throughout the Bay Area, spent the day listening to speeches and educational sessions on everything from personal growth to communication skills and leadership. It was the District 57 Spring Conference, and I’d won a ticket to go last Monday during my club’s Tall Tales contest (again, another story for another time). While I was away, my husband, after he got off work, took our son to see a movie.

If you’ve never been to a Toastmasters event, I will spoil it for you a bit: the vast majority of the speeches and table topics have a similar, recurring theme. While many are humorous, nearly all are inspirational in some way or other.

Yesterday was no exception. The first table topics speaker (a woman from the same small town I live in) had lost both legs and described the choice she’d made to have prosthetics built so she and her husband could travel during their retirement. Another woman, who has Tourette’s, explained that Toastmasters is her “drug of choice” and that when she’s speaking, she has no symptoms. A third speaker, a man who’d been a mega-athlete in high school before being paralyzed from the chest down, went on to lead his power wheelchair soccer team to international victory.

The theme of the conference was Stand and Deliver, but I think it could just as easily have been “Oh Yeah? Watch Me!” Clearly, none of the participants let their supposed weaknesses get them down for long, and the message wasn’t lost on me. What you might view as a disadvantage in your life can actually be your greatest source of strength.

When I got home last night, my family and I watched an episode of Undercover Boss. On the show, the CEO of a soft pretzel company was stunned to learn how much some of his valued employees were struggling, and he cried several times throughout the show. Visible displays of emotion in men are seen as a weakness in my country, but this guy let loose while cameras rolled. The benefit? I, and I imagine, thousands of other viewers now see this CEO as a genuine human being. He’s elevated the status of his company in my eyes.

I’ve talked about this concept before – the idea that a disability is actually a super human ability or that a supposed character flaw can, in fact, be a person’s ace in the hole.

It’s one such flaw, in fact, that ultimately led me to where I was yesterday. You see, my entire life, I’ve been mistaken for being unfriendly or even arrogant when the reality is that I am excruciatingly shy… sometimes to the point that I have a hard time talking to someone, one on one, that I’ve known for years (thankfully, more and more lately this is not the case).

I was asked to give a short presentation during my department’s staff meeting and I choked. I’d worked with these guys for almost two years and I couldn’t do it. That night, on Facebook, I jokingly asked whether anyone knew anything about Toastmasters. A coworker, who’d helped me out by driving me to work shortly after my Mothers Day weekend mishap mentioned above, replied and said he’d love to check it out!

That was a year and a half ago, and the tide is beginning to turn with regards to my personality flaw. If I had to guess, I would say a good percentage of the 20 other people in my club could tell a similar story.

Think about your own personal weakness or flaw, and decide for yourself: how can I turn this into my personal strength or strong character trait?

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