26 4 / 2014
She closes her locker and starts walking away. I close my locker. I can feel my heart begin to beat faster and faster and my breathing getting heavier! My body is readying itself to take on this new challenge, this potential danger, yet I remain…frozen, staring at that locker door before me. Should I do it? What have I got to lose? What if she says no? What would I say next? Do it. Do it, Brandon! Just don’t think about it! Madam Toastmasters, my Fellow Toastmasters, and Honored Guests.
Asking someone to prom can be a monumental task, especially when said person has been compared in looks to Catherine Zeta Jones. Plus, it was hard for me to know if this attractive, popular girl was nice to me because we genuinely shared some kind of chemistry or because she was just…nice. I took the risk that day. I marched on up behind her and, awkwardly, got her attention. My hands felt a bit awkward, my voice sounded very awkward, the way I was walking was…awkward. But I’m glad I did it because she said…well I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it certainly wasn’t “yes.”
Failing isso important to our growth and development as individuals. We’ve all heard the stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team or Steve Jobs being fired from Apple, yet somehow we always manage to try our very hardest to avoid failure. Let’s talk about why failing is so important and how we can begin to embrace it.
Two essential elements to a happy life, Growth and freedom, are prizes that failure bestows upon us. How? The risk of failure takes us out of our comfort zones and puts our personality, our resolve, our cleverness to the test. Once we experience failure our neurons fire, recalculate and reorganize like a tiny army forming a new plan of attack. Lastly, our subconscious learns from its mistakes and if we can start to use this to our advantage, we grow stronger, faster, and smarter; simply put… we gain invaluable experience. Think back to a time when you first moved out on your own and started paying your own bills or cooking your own food. Reimagine the days when you applied to job after job only to hear words like, “Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.” I’m sure most, if not all of us, would say that we’re smarter, more experienced from those risks and those failures.
We’ve all seen firsthand how our failures can build us into better human beings; Let’s reignite that fire and continue growing! A great mind once said, “A comfort zone is a really beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Failure… can afford us… that… growth… (with low volume).
Failure is also a type of freedom, because it means the worst has happened. You can go on knowing that you already survived once. I had a terrible experience with public speaking in college when I unknowingly volunteered myself to speak in front of an entire lecture hall. How bad was I? I did the 3 “S”s…I was Shaking, Stuttering, and Sweating. When I was done, the only thing you could hear were the sounds of the crickets saying, “Thank God that’s over!” But that experience made it possible for me to even think about competing in Toastmasters and pushing my boundaries and possibilities even further. In fact, Toastmasters is filled with failures. I once told a friend how amazing this club is; how it will help you in almost every facet of your social life and professional life, how you’ll feel like a new person when you realize what you’re capable of. They looked at me and said, “No, I’m terrible at public speaking. It scares the life out of me!” And I said, “Exactly!” This person was too scared to face failure. Toastmasters is filled with failures, but we all know how much it’s improved our lives.
Maybe you’re pumped up and excited. You’re ready to become the new you and embrace failure as a way to reach your dreams! But how do you do it? How do you embrace it? Here are three simple, yet important, steps: 1. Be positive 2. Be determined and 3. Be with good people.
We’ve talked about embracing failure but it can still be difficult to stay optimistic in the face of it, so keeping a positive outlook is essential. I’ve heard people pride themselves in being a “realist” as opposed to an optimist. Yes being grounded and realistic certainly is good, but sometimes we need to let go of that and push through our failures and not take “no” for an answer.
Be determined. If you carry a goal, if you can visualize your success, and you can stay hungry and determined, you are much more likely to take failure as a mere stumbling block. Riveting success stories come from individuals who see the rewards of their success as greater than the disappointment of failure, and with that in mind, they happily tolerate the risk. Lastly, be with good people. We all need support. We need mentors. We need friends who risk failure because they, too, know that failing at something often leads to experiencing changes in yourself that you never thought possible. This is why Toastmasters works. We know what it’s like to face the fear of an audience and the joys and elation of the final applause. Be very positive, be very determined, be around good people.
A mentor recently shared with me a truly inspiring story. It’s of a young girl who’s father would ask her every evening, “What did you fail at today?” The worst answer she could have given him was… “nothing.” In a recent interview, the girl said that this changed her mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome. Failure is simply…… not trying at all. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” she says. Today, that girl is the world’s youngest, self-made, female billionaire. Her name is Sara Blakely and most of the ladies in the audience surely know of her product.
I encourage you, at your earliest opportunity, to use the metaphor of that popular/attractive girl and metaphorically ask her to prom. Embrace the awkwardness. Revel in it. And when you leave here today, ask yourself, very seriously, “What have a failed at today,” but don’t accept “nothing,” for an answer. Madam Toastmaster. (Stand there, turn to face Toastmaster and reach your hand out for a handshake, and wait for her to walk up to you).
02 3 / 2014
So I went to dinner with family tonight at Firefly restaurant in Studio City. My sister and her fiancé are visiting from Seattle and so my family, along with my sister’s fiancé’s parents, ate at this trendy, up-scale place where the lighting is dim and the appetizers are served on thin rectangular plates made of some kind of grey stone. (My Yelp review)
In particularly though, I wanted to talk about the talk I had with my grandmother. You see, my grandparents have always put a lot of their hopes and wishes into me. During the drive over to Studio City I told them about what has been going on in my life — how I left my company, how I’ve applied for some jobs and how I’ve been rejected by them so far. While my dream is to be a successful entrepreneur, I tell them that I really want to move out soon and that I’ll likely need a job to do that. They are pretty understanding of things, but still, it’s a bit of an uncomfortable topic for me because I know that my they, my grandfather particularly, would have liked to see me in much higher places by now.
Over dinner, my grandma brings back the subject of work, business, moving out, etc…but she surprises me. She tells me that the common ways of thinking about work and careers are out-dated, that wealth comes from building a business and that I should never stop thinking of ideas. Perhaps more importantly she tells me that I should never give up just because of failure because it just takes one success to make it. I’ve heard messages like these over and over again, but I’ve read them in books written to encourage hopeful entrepreneurs. In my day-to-day life it’s so rare to hear these messages from someone older than me; a parent-figure. And this is coming from a woman who did well for herself by working over 30 years as an assistant in the biggest accounting firm in the country. The fact that she, someone so much older than I am, shares the same mindset that I do was so moving.
When you commit yourself to taking a path that is less traveled or being passionate about a mindset that is a bit unconventional, you get used to hearing the nay-sayers remind you of the doubts, the risks, and the failures. It’s something that becomes expected; something you take with a grain of salt. This is why it feels so special when you finally hear someone tell you that the rewards from those doubts, risks, and failures will all be worth it, and that no one is stopping you from achieving them. And the fact that this was coming from my own grandmother…
…I almost cried.
Cheers to moving forward.
21 1 / 2014
Thank you Toastmaster, my fellow Toastmasters, and welcomed guests. What do you think being a Toastmaster says about us? What unique characteristics do we, together in this club, share? If you were to ask me, I’d say that it’s courage, determination, and a willingness to improve upon our weaknesses. Well for my previous speech, I spoke about my early experience with public speaking because I thought it fit perfectly with the idea of the icebreaker, but I didn’t get to share much about who I am. So today, I’m going to share with you three aspects of my life that are important to me and, just like in my opening question for you, you will learn what I think each of those things says about my personality. So let me tell you about three passions I have: playing the guitar, surfing, and traveling.
So first – the guitar. Have any of you here listened to a song, whether it was in your bedroom, in your car, or in your shower, and gotten so in to it that you caught yourself belting out the lyrics, playing air guitar, or drumming a beat on an imaginary drum set? I did that all the time when I was starting high school and discovering my own tastes in music. But at some point I thought to myself, “I don’t want to pretend to do these awesome things. I want to actually do them!” That was when I first started hinting to my parents that I wanted a guitar, and the following Christmas I opened one of the most exciting gifts I’ve ever received. I was so lucky because many parents might hear those hints and decide not to buy an expensive toy that their child might quickly get bored of. But this was about ten years ago. Since then, not only did I not get bored, I took lessons, read books, taught classes, and performed on stage. And I learned something about myself. I learned that when I say that I want to do something, I will do it and I will get good at it. Granted, I’m definitely no virtuoso, nor do I intend to be, but I don’t believe in just learning the basics of something and feeling satisfied. To me, that’s like saying you speak another language when all you can really say to someone is “hello” and “where’s the restroom.” So, to me, the guitar shows my level of determination with new endeavors. Now let’s talk about my favorite sport – surfing.
Surfing, to me, represents many things, but one thing in particular is that it represents my independence. When I was a child, I would spend hours at the beach during the summer. As I got a little older, I told myself I wanted to learn how to surf. No one had the time to teach me, so I borrowed an old board and wetsuit from a friend and taught myself how to surf. Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine yourself relaxing after a long week and paddling out into the sea. You sit there, bobbing with the waves, watching a flock of birds fly past the sun and a pod of dolphins swimming only yards in front of you. Nothing from work or your daily stresses crosses your mind. Nothing. Your only focus is the beauty of nature and the calculation of each passing wave. How fast is this one moving? How tall is it? You paddle furiously and stand up. A huge rush of adrenaline surges as you glide down the face of the wave. Every move you make is a reaction to the drops and turns that are thrown at you. And over and over you repeat the process – just you and the ocean. So now I’ve told you about my sense of determination and independence; Lastly, I’d like to share my sense of exploration through travel.
So, travel. I love exploring new places. Let me tell you about two places I’ve visited recently. In 2012 I took a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city was incredible! The glittering beaches are lively and energetic. The air is filled with the sounds of Samba music and the smell of fresh acai berries. But exploring beyond the tourists and multi-million dollar hotels, you find the city’s poverty, which is cramped into brightly painted shanty towns know as favelas. These favelas are a maze of narrow streets and tangled power lines. They smell of sewage and are strangled by poverty and drugs trafficking. We wandered through the tiny streets and I imaged what it must be like to live here. I had similar thoughts when Jenny and I took a trip to Vietnam last year. I realized how much I took for granted and how different culture is in a communist country. But Vietnam was unique because I was able to explore the northern part of the country with new friends we met from around the world. I also stayed in a hostel for the first time and one night we slept in a hut on an island in Ha Long Bay. In contrast – in the South – we stayed with Jenny’s family in a small town. I lived like a local and bonded with people despite a heavy language barrier. Brazil and Vietnam were just two of my travels, but I think they can give you a small sense of my love of exploration.
So now I want to conclude my speech with an invitation. I’ve shared with you the determination I discovered while learning the guitar, the independence I feel when surfing, and the exploration I enjoy when traveling. If any of these are interests that you have or would like to pursue in your own life, I invite you to a friendly conversation where maybe we can both share our passions and learn new things about ourselves in the process. Thank you.
14 12 / 2013
26 11 / 2013
Sometimes I feel like I should be living my life “faster.” Like I should be a new place doing something I’ve always dreamed of. For me this happens perhaps a few times a year, during times when I know that I’m ready for change. Maybe you’ve experienced it too — you’ve been in a relationship that hasn’t really been working for a while, your job has gotten stale and you feel like you’re not learning anymore or, in my current case, a big decision has presented itself and it could mean the difference between moving into the unknown or hanging onto something familiar that may or may not be healthy/wise. It’s these times in our lives that the expectations we have for ourselves take a gleaming look down at our reality. Pretty soon we start to become more critical of our boredom and our inactions. We feel guilty of days gone by where nothing really happened. It’s kind of like when you catch yourself watching a re-run of a show you like and realize that you’ve seen that same episode at least 20 times.
Now is that time. It is for me; maybe it is for you too. We can’t be bored. We have to fight our laziness, bad habits, and procrastination. The realization of our dreams depends on it. Let’s do ourselves a favor and do something about the things we know we need to get done. Let’s embrace change and uncertainty as new and exciting chapters in our lives. And let’s do this — whenever we’re faced with doing something productive that can get us to where we want to be or doing something comfortable, relaxing and routine, let’s force ourselves to drop what we’re doing and be productive, and afterwards reward ourselves by stepping outside or grabbing a refreshing drink. Ok, I’m guessing you’re thinking that the last part of that call-to-action was a bit random. Why step outside or grab a drink?? Because our minds need a reward system that helps us to build habits of good behavior. We could reward ourselves by watching 10 guilt-free minutes of YouTube, but oftentimes (depending on what you’re watching, I suppose) that could just mean shutting off our brains is the reward. We would want to do just the opposite. A step outside or a refreshing glass of whatever would not only be pleasing but it would allow us to, at least for a minute, take a deep breath and reflect on that little victory we’ve just accomplished. Do this enough and pretty soon doing the things we’ve been meaning to do will become much easier.