A version of an original Toastmaster speech
|When I was a kid, the question “What do you want to be?” made my palms sweat.
I got so worked up over that question, I became terrified of it. Why were people always asking me what I wanted to be? They’d put their hand on my shoulder, lean over, and stare down their noses and say, “So....what do you want to be when you grow up?” Even now, just hearing that brings back memories of nose hairs, and old-man smell, or else puffy shoulder pads and too much Jean Nate.
The question ran in circles inside my head. It grew from a little hamster on a squeaky wheel into a pack of screeching brain ferrets.
They: What do you want to be?!
Them: What do you want to be?
Me: “I don't know!!” …..
There were so many variables, too many ways it could all go wrong. I needed a plan, or a mind map, or a dream journal. I needed help. I needed Tony Robbins...
Air. I needed air.
So, I took a deep breath, and gave it serious thought. What did I want to be? That....was such a stupid question! So, like any other anxious, and perhaps slightly neurotic kid, I asked myself even stupider ones:
Would growing up really turn me into something different?
Once it did would grown-up ‘me’ even be ‘me’ anymore?
Did that explain why adults were all so weird?
Ahhhh! It was so unfair!
I just started figuring out who I was. And I liked me....so far. I didn’t want to become something else. Not to mention figuring out what that was. People said I could be anything I wanted; but that's a lot of things. How was I supposed to decide?.....And that's when the suggestions started.
So creative....has he done any writing?
My daddy was preacher, and you’re so much like him. Have you thought about.....?
Wow! The stuff your kid says...just like a politician. What if....
Police officer was good enough for your father, and it's good for...
That great voice you've got - radio's the thing for you, kid...
So many choices; an arsenal of possibilities being fired at me like guided missiles with 'someday' painted on the sides. Their intentions were noble, and the suggestions weren't bad, per se. They just sounded so.......boring!
If I had to grow up and become something, I wanted to become something cool! I had a few ideas of my own, and mine came from a better source - Saturday morning cartoons.
By the Power of Greyskull
Autobots, roll out!
Thunder, Thunder, Thunder – Thunder Cats, Ho!
All these amazing heroes were calling me to action! I mean what little boy wouldn't want to run off and…
Oh, wait a minute - that was it! That's what I could be – a hero!
All the worrying would be over. I’d tell mom, she'd tell everybody else, and they'd stop asking me that stupid question.
After explaining this to mom with a thoroughly researched and detailed presentation, she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned over me, and looked down her nose saying, “Oh, so dangerous. Can’t you be something that doesn't involve getting shot?”
Like she just shot me down, you mean?
Be anything, huh? Didn’t they get it?
The potential to be anything gave you a selection pool of potentially everything.
That’s a lot of things, and it clearly wasn’t true.
I mean, if being a SilverHawk or a Master of the Universe was off the table, what other restrictions were there I didn’t know about?
I decided they meant I could be anything, so long as it wasn’t everything awesome.
Meanwhile, suggestions kept rocketing in. Some even seemed intentionally unhelpful. For example, at one family reunion my alcoholic uncle Larry suggested I become a mime.
I was skeptical. "A mime, uncle Larry? Really?!"
"…...oh, yeah!”, he slurred with confidence. “You could be rich and famous. And I'll tell you something else, kid; chicks dig mimes."
You might wonder how twisted or cynical a person has to be to suggest something like that to a child. But what you should be wondering is how desperate and gullible a child would have to be to try it.
Well, I can you from experience that no body ‘digs’ mimes.
Almost too late, I made the connection.
Of course, they'd been talking about a career rather than a complete metamorphosis.
And of course, that realization didn't help either. Why was deciding where a person would collect their paycheck so important that it got re-framed as transition of identity?
In addition to being worried, now I was starting to get scared...really scared.
I was scared that I'd never become anything.
I ended up doing what a lot of people do; live with the confusion, and work as a waiter.
What scared me then most was how much nothing changed.
Is that all life was? Just new fears, added onto old?
I was still the same anxious, insecure kid; now with a driver’s license, and then a mortgage.
And eventually, with two daughters of my own.
The first time one of them asked me if she could be anything, I swear I almost said “Sure”.
But I couldn’t tell her that…
What was I going to do? What could I say?!
I remembered my heartache and disappointment when I discovered I’d never shoot laser beams out of my eyes, or breathe under water, or even own a magical sword.
I couldn’t do it. Because if I did, she would find out.
She’d find out that what her dad had become wasn’t much more than what he was when he’d wondered the same thing. It would worry her, even scare here, and maybe break her little heart.
What was I going to say?
Suddenly, I had an idea.
I knelt down beside her, looked her in the eye, and said
“I don’t know, honey. All I know is that I like who you are.”
She gave me a hug, then ran off to play.
I don’t know if that helped or not.
At least, I think, I didn't scare the kid.