I got taken to task on Saturday – not once, but twice. Actually, that wording is a little too strong. What happened is that I was reminded – in a gentle and encouraging way – that I haven’t been living up to some of my responsibilities and expectations.

I was at a Toastmasters Educational & Leadership Institute, which is held twice a year for the training of club officers, presentation of educational sessions, and announcements of the winners of various awards and contests. One of the contests this year was for two-minute videos created by various clubs to promote Toastmasters in general and their individual clubs in particular. One of the members of my home club has become an extremely talented videographer, and after collecting a number of clips at our meeting a few weeks ago, she put together an amazing video for the contest. When I saw her at the TELI, the first thing I did was give her a big hug and tell her what a great job she did and how much I enjoyed the video.

“That’s good to hear,” she told me. “I was afraid you didn’t like it.”

Her words took me by surprise. How could I not like it? She captured the essence of our club and our members. She showed all of us – myself included – at our very best, and she highlighted more collective and individual strengths and attributes than I would have thought possible in two short minutes.

Not only that, but when she emailed a link for the video to everyone in our club, a number of people wrote back, praising her efforts and the end result, and telling her what a fantastic job she had done.
But I wasn’t one of them.

It’s not because I didn’t agree. In fact, I agreed so much that when I started to write an email, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do her justice and say everything I wanted to say. So I decided I’d call her instead. It was late in the evening, though, so I planned to call the next day.

The next day was busy, of course, and then another day went by. By then it was just another day or two till our next meeting. I decided I’d tell her then. In person would be better than a phone call anyway.

She wasn’t at the next meeting, however. And suddenly it was a week and a half since she sent out the video, and I was seeing her at the TELI for the first time since then.

When she told me she was afraid I hadn’t liked the video, I immediately realized two things. One is that my opinion matters to her, and she is well aware that I’m usually one who will call attention to a job well-done. The other is that we can say just as much by our silence as by our speaking. And the message isn’t always the one we want to convey.

Earlier that morning, I had run into the president of our club in the Resource Center, where various Toastmasters manuals and supplies are sold. She noticed me purchasing a new Leadership manual, which is a tool that members use to track and report their progress, as well as the completion of roles and responsibilities that lead to various Toastmasters awards. I’m pretty good about using the communications manuals for the speeches I give, but I’m not as attentive to the leadership roles. I do them, I just don’t get them logged in and accounted for as consistently as I should.

“It would be great if you started doing that more,” our president said. “Other members look up to you. And we have a lot of new members. If they see you doing this, it will set a good example and be a great reminder for them.”

Busted. Again.

I used to nod vigorously in agreement whenever someone would point out – often in the face of the latest scandal – that sports stars and other celebrities serve as heroes and role models for kids, and they should take this seriously and set a good example both on and off the court. Or wherever their playing field is.

But I never thought of myself the same way.

We all serve as examples – good or bad – for other people. We are role models even when we don’t realize that other people are watching or listening. This doesn’t mean we should continually second-guess ourselves, or attempt to be perfect and flawless, or keep looking over our shoulders to see who’s watching. It means we should live our lives in such a way that we don’t have to.

That’s one of the things I learned at the TELI on Saturday, and it wasn’t even on the program.

By the way, my club won the contest. If you have two minutes to spare and would like to view the video, you can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7MJjVY2tz8. If you’d like to visit our club in person, you can find the info you need on the video. We’d love to have you as a guest. And if I have a role in the meeting that day, you can be sure I’ll be filling out my manual appropriately. Otherwise, I know I’ll be reminded – in a gentle and encouraging way – that it’s up to me to honor and fulfill my responsibilities and expectations. I owe that to the people around me. And even more so, I owe it to myself.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 16, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012