“It is my pleasure to announce, for third place in the Area International Contest, Victor Tan!”
Those words hurt more than anything else that day.
It was November, and I had chosen to participate in Toastmasters competitions to see how good my public speaking skills were.
Before the contest, I had participated in a contest within my local club to qualify for this contest. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t prepare as well as I thought I had, and was beaten out by a new arrival to the club.
Trying to make up for my poor performance, I aimed to do better at this contest. I tried to prepare as much as I could, but to be honest I had other matters that distracted me. I went against my own advice and didn’t prepare as much as I should.
The result? I performed worse than I should have. Instead of progressing to the next round, I was knocked out. While everyone went up to me and said that I gave some wonderful speeches, the feedback rang hollow to me at the time.
I thought myself as a person who was really good at public speaking. I’m not so arrogant to claim that I was the best, but not progressing through to more advanced contests rang home the feeling that I might not be nearly as good as I imagined.
My failures in the contests stung me. It ate at my very being, because it felt like my only redeeming quality was gone.
It felt as if my entire world was crumbling, because the very structure it is built on no longer exists.
But no matter how much it hurts, tomorrow I was still going to have to wake up and speak again. I had to face myself and actually look at what went wrong.
I Had To Be Honest With Myself
Believing that the reason behind your failure was because of factors outside your control sounds incredibly comforting.
Knowing that something wasn’t your fault takes the responsibility off of your shoulders and makes you feel much better.
Before the competition, I lost my phone on a bus to the venue. My mind tried its best to block out the phone, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what could happen when my phone was gone. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even during my speeches.
But blaming everything on the lost phone would not be right.
While I want to say I was distracted by losing my phone and that was the reason I performed so poorly, it wasn’t going to change the fact that I didn’t prepare as much as I could have. It was going to be a scapegoat for a reason I didn’t want to face.
As painful as it was, I told myself to be honest. I got too overconfident and didn’t prepare a lot. Losing my phone did affect me, but it was not the only reason I gave such a poor performance.
Admitting everything hurt my ego, but it was better to accept a painful truth than hide behind a peaceful lie.
It’s better to accept a painful truth than hide behind a peaceful lie. @SpiritOnStage (Click to Tweet!)
I Had To Wake Up And Fix Things Now
A long running habit of mine is that after I inevitably feel better after a loss, I forget what I need to do to fix my mistakes and prevent a failure from happening again.
It’s happened so many times in my life that I got used to it, but I couldn’t just forget about my mistake in the competition. I had just humiliated myself in the one activity that was my point of pride. If I let this mistake go, I would no longer have any redeeming quality.
The first thought in my mind was that I wanted to just rest and let myself feel better before I did anything, but I fought that thought. I was going to fight through my pain and start making a plan.
If my biggest mistake was a lack of preparation, I would prepare as soon as I could. Not in a few days, not the week before, but now.
Making an effort to change was something that my mind fought as all I wanted to do was feel better now. But if I didn’t act now, I knew that I would never address my mistake. I pushed on, knowing that the pain now wouldn’t last.
Next time, I would give everything I had.
I Reached For The Earliest Opportunity To Come Back
Up until the competition, I hadn’t had a loss that was painful enough to make me not want to wake up the next morning.
But after the loss, I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t want to speak again.
Even though I knew I couldn’t stop speaking, I was scared to get up in front of another audience. Doubt crept into my thoughts and presented the possibility that the past would repeat itself.
Would I never be able to convince people that I was a great speaker? Would I never be able to improve and always be stuck being worse than someone else? Would I never be able to help anyone be a good communicator again?
The truth was that all of my doubts would come true if I never stepped out in front of an audience again. If I wanted to dispel the doubts in my heart, I would have to take the earliest opportunity to redeem myself.
Thankfully, a speaking opportunity in early January presented itself, and I signed myself up as soon as I could.
Then the bitterness of my poor performance crept into my mind.
Nervousness gripped me, wondering if I was actually going to be ready in time to perform. Would I be able to show my face in front of an audience again?
To be honest, I did not and still do not know the answer to that question.
All I knew was one thing. If I did not try again, I would never have the chance to hold my head up in front of others again. I had to try again, even if I didn’t feel ready.
I had to try again to show myself that I was still capable of greatness and could take responsibility for my failures.
Otherwise, I would never have another opportunity to redeem myself.
There Will Always Be Another Chance To Succeed
I don’t remember a time where I have felt more ashamed and embarrassed at myself than after the Toastmasters competition.
I had to deal with feelings I had never experienced before, feelings which made me feel that everything I had been working towards was useless.
But I faced my feelings honestly and admitted what went wrong. I took actions to do better next time, and I forced myself to show the results of my progress by facing the audience again as soon as I could.
The experience humbled me, and showed me that even though I performed poorly before, I could still take responsibility and do better next time.
Even at my lowest point, I was still able to wipe the tears from my eyes and the frustration from my heart. I was able to regain my fighting spirit and prepare to speak in front of others again.
No matter how poor my future performances are, no matter how crushing my future defeats can be, I will be able to pick myself up and continue moving forward.
As long as I don’t stop doing my best, there will always be an opportunity to recover from even the most humiliating defeat.
Victor Tan writes to helps people overcome their weaknesses to be a better public speaker. He does this by helping people with self-improvement and teaching them proper speaking techniques. You can find him at his website, Spirit On Stage, Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of SP2Zsolt.January 9, 2017