I am very smart. Okay?
Also part of my job is public speaking. Every Sunday. And some Wednesdays. Every Sunday I am up in front of a church, ranging from under 20 people to thousands. I am almost never nervous. I don’t care if I mess up.
I was on speech team in high school (NERD ALERT I KNOW SHUT UP) and I was good at it. I didn’t win state or anything, but I made it to state. I placed sometimes. At any rate, I wrote myself a speech and performed it at competitions every weekend. I wasn’t scared. I was pretty good at it. I learned a thing or two about gestures and pausing and I did it every weekend.
So when I was told that I had to take a speech class as part of my degree requirements, I balked. “I was on speech team,” I told my advisor. She assured me that it didn’t matter, speech class was a requirement.
I opted for the online option the first time – yes there was an online option. It entailed sending your speech outlines to your peers, making an audio recording of your speech for review, and two Saturdays during the semester to come together and give your speech.
I failed that class.
This did not change the fact that it was a requirement, so I had to take it again. On campus this time. I took it in a summer session. Then I stopped showing up about halfway through.
I failed again.
I, who now speak every weekend and am minorly sought after for other events, failed speech class. Twice. And the sad part is, I was good at giving speeches. I could write a speech in minutes. I was good at finding topics that were interesting and relevant. I could do the hard stuff. And it was easy for me.
The truth is, I thought I was too good for that class. I walked in the first day smugly looking around at these kids with stage fright. Most of them had never written a speech outside of high school English class – I had spent most Saturdays through high school in round after round of speaking and getting feedback. I led worship every Sunday. I didn’t need this class.
It was this exact smugness that caused me to re-take a basic speech class three times. I thought I had nothing to learn. The truth was, I still had more to learn. I gained more skills from the class than I thought I would. But the bottom line was, those kids in the first class that had never written a speech? The ones that had stage fright and stumbled through their speech, reading off their notes too much? They passed the class, many of them with A’s, and moved on. And here I was two years later in the same class where I had started.
I read in a book once that kids that are highly skilled or intelligent often don’t make it as far as kids who are hard-working. I believe that is absolutely true. All the intelligence and skill in the world is nothing if work is not involved. I could have easily passed this class the first time I took it – the only on-campus requirement was two Saturdays, for crying out loud. But I didn’t put the work in. It didn’t matter that I had the skill for it. I failed.
You know what finally got me to pass? Admitting that I was just like every other student in the class. Admitting I had as much need for this course as they did. Putting work in and submitting myself to the process.
By far the thing that has held me back in life the idea that I didn’t need the process I was in. I was too good for it, or thought I was further ahead. Or maybe I wasn’t as far ahead as I thought I should be and felt embarrassed. I wish so badly I had learned when I was younger that you’re in the process you’re in because it’s what you need. Your teachers or mentors know what you need more than you do. They see the long game. You don’t.
The third time I took my speech class, I decided to take it seriously. I spent a lot of time putting good speeches together. I practiced. And my teacher wound up inviting me to be part of a speech competition (which I graciously declined due to my credit/work load). Submitting myself to the process and allowing myself to learn and experience allowed me to grow in the way I needed to.