Toastmasters – A Four-Year Journey
I came to America when I was 23 years old. I had 20 lbs less in fat and flesh, and I could be knocked down easily by an evening breeze. Feeling tiny and weak, I always tried to shrink myself to the smallest, so everyone would not notice I was there. Like most of my fellow countrymen who came to America for the first time, I could rarely communicate. If I happened to have a conversation, I rarely understood what other people said. I usually had to asked them to repeat for three to four times and normally they would just give up on the whole idea of talking to me. In some rare cases that I did understood, the burden of comprehension would then switch to them. Though I didn’t mind repeating what I wanted to say for a hundred times, the fact that people would always misunderstand it to something else was so discouraging. Consequently, I muted.
One and a half years in America, myself esteem was too low that it almost buried me alive. I could not get a job. I could not make friend. I could not even lift my head up enough to see farther than my toes. I was so depressed that I started counting the words I said every day. Since speak-able words was such luxurious things, I used them as frugal as I could. In a daily basis, I spent 12 words to the cashier to get my groceries, I spent another 9 words to order a drink at Starbucks where I would stay for hours to read a book or, sometimes, just to see the time flow slowly and wastefully. I saved 4 words in case someone need to ask if the seat next to me was vacant. The last 4 words of a day would finally be spent when I got home and notified my mom about my existence. For a while, I managed to survive with merely 29 words a day. And then things started to change shortly after that, when I added another word I soon learned from my great uncle.
Following the new word that I had just learned, I started to walk on a new path, a path I am pretty sure we all heard about at least once in our life, the Toastmasters path. I found a flyer of a Toastmaster club at the local library so I paid them a visit. At first, it looked like a senior club where the youngest member was at least two times of my age. They were all confidence and they spoke so well. I was scared but I had no other place to go, so I stayed and joined with them. I moved awfully slowly. For several months, I was scheduled to do the minor tasks and except the time I did my first and second speech. It took me four months to do the Table Topic for the first time, and before I had a chance to be a Toastmaster or an Evaluator, I dropped! I had a job and I needed it to pay for school and to pay the debts I accumulated to survive through my 2 jobless years in America. That was November of 2012.
I quit my job and came back. I wouldn’t say I like my job, or my boss, very much. But the desire of being able to communicate, to speak, like those people in Toastmaster was another major reason why I made my decision. I knew it would be tough and it turned out to be even worse. But what I didn’t expect was how the club members treated me after abandoning them. They welcomed me like a long lost child that one day returned to his family. Every single person said welcome back to me when they had the lectern. I was deeply touched.
As life went, there were good times and bad times. I did feel down and I did bounce back, but I never gave up on going to Toastmasters. One speech after another, I finally finished my Competent Communicator manual a few weeks before my third Toastmaster anniversary. The completion of my Competent Leadership manual followed two months after that. I volunteered to become a Club Officer and then an Area Director. When I volunteered for those position, I had no single clue what or how I would do, but I believe every piece of my time devoting for those job would be paid off by another invaluable piece of skill or experience. How could it not be when I have mentors and many experience fellow Toastmaster by my side?
After four years with Toastmasters, I am now a confident citizen, an MBA with a distinction honor on my diploma, and the owner of a small business that grows steadily and healthily, I am so proud to give the credit of all those successes to Toastmaster and to share my story to everyone I know and challenge them to let Toastmasters transform them, like it once helped me to survive through my cold dark night to, one day, see my American dream come true.
Minh Le, CC, ACB