I got a strong dose of motivation and inspiration over the weekend. It happens every year around this time, which is when our Toastmasters District holds its Spring Convention.

A highlight of the convention is the International Speech Contest, which brings together the winners of ten Division contests. These are people who have already won at three levels of competition, so you can imagine how polished and persuasive their speeches are by the time they reach the District level.

What I’ve always found fascinating is that no matter how powerful the messages are in each of the speeches, it’s the stories behind them that capture my attention and stay with me long after the contest is over. The lessons become more meaningful and motivating when they’re attached to a memorable story, whether that story is heartwarming or heartbreaking, whether it makes me laugh or cry, and whether it’s about an experience I can totally relate to or one that’s absolutely foreign to me.

I also find it interesting that the speeches usually provide a new and original perspective, even though the messages and lessons of the speeches are rarely new or original. They remind me of things I already knew, but in a way that allows me to learn them all over again.

A young man’s leap of faith in coming to America from Jamaica reminded me of all that I can achieve when I’m willing to take chances in life. A doctor’s account of conversations with his child reminded me of the power of listening. And a teacher’s story about her mentor during several years teaching in Japan reminded me of the value and joy of friendship, as well as the fact that the most rewarding and satisfying relationships can come from the unlikeliest of friends.

If you had to select a story from some point in your life – one that would motivate, help, or inspire another person – what story would it be? Most of us would probably look for one that reflected a success we’ve achieved, or an accomplishment of some kind. That’s a good place to start, but it’s not our achievements that are the most inspiring and motivating to others. The most powerful and encouraging stories are the ones that tell of the fears, the failures, and the obstacles we had to overcome along the way. Those stories are the ones we most relate to, and the ones most likely to inspire us to take action.

We shouldn’t be afraid of failure – which was the message of another one of the contestants at the speech competition. That’s a lesson I especially need to be reminded of every so often, whenever I mess up on something and am tempted to start beating myself up for making mistakes and not getting it right. That’s when I most need to remember that it’s our failures that lead to success.

And to powerful speeches. I see that every year in the ten people who are willing to share their failures, their shortcomings, and their stories with others, like me, in the audience at the Toastmasters Spring Convention.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 5, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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