Saturday, March 21, 2015

Toastmasters Contest Speech: "Chasing Failure"

Recently, I won my club speech contest and competed at the Area contest level, which is a first for me. Another first for me was that I managed to make this speech without using notes. Although I didn't win the Area contest, I did get a lot of compliments and gained confidence to continue entering contests. Here is the speech I made for the annual International Speech Contest:

Chasing Failure

Some people chase failure job to job or city to city. I chased failure country to country.

I grew up in Michigan. At 21 I chased my future to South Korea, where I spent 4 years before retreating to California, where I met the man I recently married in India.

In Michigan, I was the smartest person I knew according to my huge ego. I had good grades, a bright future, and close friends. Then one day I didn’t have those anymore, so I ran away to South Korea and vowed never to return.

After 9 months of failing to find a full-time job, I returned to Michigan to finish my degree. The day after graduation, I flew back to the scene of my most recent failure to try again.

This time, I lucked into a corporate job and made plans for my impressive future. But then my visa expired and I couldn’t get a new one, so I fled to California. 

In California, I couldn’t even get a job as a secretary. I obsessed about how I’d failed by choosing an International Studies major, failed in my career in Korea, failed to get a job in my own country, failed to build a life for myself, failed failed failed.

While I was feeling sorry for myself, my damaged family relationships were healing, and I met my husband. I was slowly becoming happy for the first time in my life. I live in a beautiful area with all the comforts of home but people and culture from all over the world. The sun is almost always shining and there are no mosquitoes.

My problem was that my standard of success did not fit my life. My happiness was dependent on my corporate success, and I had pushed everyone away. Even if it had worked out I would never have been happy. I had to fail to realize that was not the life I wanted. 

And if that’s not the life I want, that life's standard of success is not success. When I chose my major, when I ran away to Korea, when I came to California, I was trying to find happiness. So success is merely to be happy. Now I’m happy and so are the people I care about.

Once I shifted my perception of myself from a failure to a success, my memories gained a different color. The time I thought I’d wasted in Korea was actually spent learning how to be a foreigner, something Americans are notoriously bad at.

When I first got to Korea, I asked a lot of questions about the way things are, like “Why is there a cartoon cat with a fish on its head saying ‘I love rainbow’ on that toilet paper holder?” It took me years to accept the answer that Koreans just like cute things. 

In India, there are bright colors everywhere, including intricately painted cargo trucks. I asked my husband why the trucks are so colorful. His answer that Indians like color was good enough for me, because I’ve learned to accept things the way they are.

As a cute foreigner in Korea, I was stared at for 4 years straight, so I barely even noticed eyes on me in India. After being terrified by Koreans ignoring traffic rules, I avoided a nervous breakdown in Indian anarchist traffic. After mastering the squatting toilet in Korea, I managed not to hurt myself in an Indian public restroom. 

Now I’m used to people talking about me in a language I don't understand, so I just go off somewhere in my head and wait to be directly spoken to. I learned a lot of new customs in India, but the act of learning was familiar so I wasn’t overwhelmed. I’ve succeeded in having confidence in unfamiliar situations.

I have redefined failure as experience I didn’t plan for but will be useful later. Instead of always chasing something better, I’m content with the way my life has turned out so far. I’m happy. And that is what I call success.

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