“The stories we tell of ourselves, define us.”
I heard a fascinating speech today by Robert Killen at the District 7 Toastmasters spring conference today.
Using a clever and concise talk, he was able to show how “stories are the wellspring of human existence.” They are so very essential, that without them we would have no future, and no past. To understand his message, consider the means through which we interpret our past and future – images connected through metaphor. In other words, stories.
Robert went on to explain how the stories we tell ourselves defines us. We can tell ourselves how hard our life is, justifying it through past stories of hardship, predicting future failure. Or, we can tell ourselves positive stories, from which we can better our lives. Neither type of story is permanent, and we can turn our lives from negative to positive by rewriting the stories we tell ourselves.
One man who is in the process of rewriting his life story is James. I met him at the conference today. He was there to compete in the District 7 Evaluation contest, a competition that pits the best evaluators in the district against each other.
I was impressed with the analytical and presentation skills. Judging from the speaker’s body language, it was clear that she took away several opportunities for improvement thanks to James’ evaluation.
However, what the speaker was given pales in comparison to what James has already demonstrated.
In February, James got out of prison.
Simply showing up at the conference showed a courage and resolve that comes from strong stuff. The stuff from which champions are made.
Several years ago, James was serving his prison term in a facility here in Oregon. He told me he weighed 300 pounds at the time and had given up on life. Depressed and suicidal, he awaited the day when his weight and poor health would take him from this earth. To him, there was no choice but to live or die.
James chose life.
While still in prison, James started taking college courses that the prison offered. As he worked toward his degree, word got around that Toastmasters ran prison clubs. Another inmate at OSCI was able to reach Allan, a longtime Toastmaster. Together, that other inmate and Allan took over a charter of a failing club and founded Tabula Rasa Toastmasters, a prison club in Salem, Oregon, with James becoming a charter member.
James worked hard in Toastmasters. He improved his speaking and evaluation skills, helping Tabula Rasa Toastmasters become a strong club, not just among the prison clubs, but among all District 7 clubs. As an aside, there is another prison club, Capitol, that has over 50 members, if I understood correctly.
As you can see by the picture, James has lost a *lot* of weight since those days at 300 pounds. That alone is a powerful story.
James has found full-time employment since leaving prison. By itself, that too would be a powerful story.
James isn’t hiding since his release. He is actively engaged in Toastmasters outside of prison, and connecting with a community. Yes, that alone would also be a powerful story.
Put these powerful stories together and it is clear that James is rewriting his life’s story.
When I asked James what the future will bring, he said that he is just enjoying life right now. Things are looking up, when they were looking down for so long.
What the future will bring James is unknown, as it is for all of us. I hope he continues to improve his life and finds the ways and means to help inspire others to turn around their lives as well.
Right now, I just want to wish him the very best of luck in everything he does. I also hope to continue to hear good stories from James.
James is rewriting his life story … for the better.
Today’s gift of time … Speaking at the District 7 Toastmasters’ Spring conference, I spoke on advocacy and how Toastmasters are uniquely positioned to be advocates for those people and organizations in our communities needing a voice. … As usual, I got more than I gave.
* If you are interested in getting involved in the Toastmasters’ prison clubs, please contact me and I’ll help you connect.