The Story of Me

2018-02-27 |

I recently joined Toastmasters to start improving my public speaking. At my second meeting I gave my first talk. I am working on the Pathways Innovative Planning track, and this first project was my ice breaker speech.

It was definitely intimidating to get up and give the talk, but I did it!

Below is the text draft of my speech.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” This quote comes from J.M. Barrie’s 1902 book, The Little White Bird. My grandfather once told me that he starts all of his best speeches with Peter Pan quotes, so I thought I should give it a try. Besides, this is a speech about me, and the first thing I ever wanted to be was Peter Pan so that I would never have to grow up and I could spend all my days flying around and fighting pirates.

I picked this quote to remind myself as I got up here today, that I can actually survive this talk. I wanted a reminder, right off the bat, to believe in my ability. I might not be a competent enough speaker yet to fly all the way to Neverland, but I can at least make it through the next four to six minutes without crashing.

At some point, I decided it might not be so bad to grow up; just a little bit though. I did need to be a little taller so that I could ride all the roller coasters at Great America, and it would be nice not to have to go to bed so early. After watching the Apollo 13 movie for the first time, I decided I could be a little more realistic and instead become an astronaut. I still wanted to go somewhere that most people will never be able to go, and I wanted to fly there. I substituted Neverland for the moon.

Sadly, this dream was also crushed by reality. Math quickly became an indecipherable language, and my least favorite subject. I remembered watching all the astronauts in the movie do so much math, which forced me to admit maybe I needed a different way to learn how to fly. Since reality had now failed me twice, I decided to create my own. I could tell stories and imagine what it would be like to go to amazing places like Neverland or the moon. I became the family story teller, a master of creating my own reality from all of the ‘what ifs?’. I would talk for hours on end if I could get someone to sit still long enough to listen to one of my tales, and I began to write.

I need to add a quick side note here. When my parents attended their first parent-teacher conference, they were convinced the teacher had me confused with another student. There was no possible way that their annoyingly-talkative, never-shuts-up daughter was the same girl the teacher was worried about. I almost never spoke while at school.

Despite my inability to speak around people I didn’t know, my love for telling stories through writing carried me through high school, and into my first year of college where I declared a major in creative writing. While I continued to enjoy writing, I quickly found myself growing bored.

So, I decided that I would drop out of college and run away to art school. This, of course, went over wonderfully with my highly educated parents, but, being the amazingly supportive people that they are, they allowed me to give it a try if it was what would make me happy.

I went and enrolled in art school, only to find out the major I wanted had a waitlist and I would have to wait a couple terms before I could start. You may have noticed by now, that I am a bit impatient, and more than a little impulsive. (This being only my second meeting as a member of Toastmasters, and I am already standing in front of you atemping my first speech.) Once I decide I am going to do a thing, I can’t stand having to wait to do it. So I decided to pick one of the other majors that didn’t have a waiting list, figuring it was all art so it would be close enough.

And this is how I ended up enrolled as a Web Design and Interactive Media student. Since I still hated math, I was a little worried about the programming aspects of my new major, but figured I could switch to graphic design after a term or two when space opened up and in the meantime I could just avoid the programming classes.

This plan worked perfectly. I walked into my first class on the first day of the term to learn some Adobe software. Of course it was Dreamweaver, so it was actually a programming class. This was probably the best thing that could have happened. I fell head-over-heels in love with the programming aspects in Dreamweaver. I hated the visual WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. I found it too limiting. I loved the creativity and freedom I found within the code.

This was finally the perfect blend of art and creativity, with logic and problem solving. After so many years of feeling like a lost boy with no direction, I had finally found the dream I was ready to go all in for. J.M. Barrie tells us in Peter Pan, that “Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”

I decided this would be a great time to dropout of college again to pursue this adventure. I started taking programming classes at the local community college, while also trying to teach myself. I continued self-teaching for about a year before I was able to snag my first developer job. I stayed in that position for a little over a year before deciding to move to Portland to attend a code school where I did well, moving through the material rapidly, and even being offered an instructor role before I had graduated.

It was around this time that I first started attending meetups. I eventually moved on to contract roles and picked up some freelance projects. I continued attending meetups and started getting more and more involved. I was finally starting to feel like the kind of leader Peter Pan was, as I mentored other lost developers in one-on-one settings, and speaking up a bit more at meetups. After awhile, I found myself a co-organizer for two different meetups (PDXNode, and Women Who Code Portland), and mentoring at about three others.

As my itch to present and share my knowledge continued to grow, I agreed to give a talk at an event. This was when I rediscovered just how bad I can be at public speaking. I muddled my way through the talk, stumbling over my words, and forgetting basic facts (like my name). Since I’m pretty sure no one understood a word I said during the whole talk, no one quite realized when I was done with it. Unsure how to end, I decided to balance on one foot -like so- and wave my hands in the air, saying “ta-da!”. I stood like that waiting for someone to either clap or, more likely, boo me off the stage, until I lost my balance and ended up falling over.

While I still haven’t figured out how I can become Peter Pan, I have often read and reread his story for inspiration while I worked on creating my own. For a long time I feared I was just one of the lost boys, with no clear path, and no idea where I was going to go. I still don’t know for sure where this path will take me, but I do know I am at least going in the right direction. I am looking forward to continuing on this adventure with all of you.