Competitive S.O.B.

This was my fifth speech in the Competent Toastmaster series.  It was originally given in 2002.

So, some people would tell you I am a competitive SOB.

In my defense, however, I had no choice in the matter.  It is how I was reared.

I was not a pampered child.  While playing Chutes and Ladders or Go Fish, my parents never let up.  I did not win.  Later, as we advanced to games like Hearts and Bridge, I was thumped.  It never ocurred to me to question my losses.  It was a running joke that I would not win anything.  Years later when I brought this up, my folks were quite unapologetic.  “Didn’t it make the winning all the sweeter since you had earned it?” they asked.

I think it did.

I recall vividly sitting in my fourth grade classroom.  I very much enjoyed my teacher, Mr. McCarty.  He was my first male teacher and I liked his style.  But at age nine, I was not the man you see today.  I was quiet and shy.  I did my work and I kept myself in line.  I was not the trouble-maker I would become.  That is what makes this story so interesting.  During a geography lesson, somehow Mr. McCarty told us that he didn’t expect that children our age would be able to name all 50 states.  Outraged, I proudly answered the challenge by declaring that indeed I could.  I was invited back to the classroom during my recess time.  There I sat whence my teacher came over, deposited a blank map of the United States before me and said, “Let’s see.”  Ten minutes later he came back and peered at me.  I was scratching my head and had a determined look upon my brow.  He picked up the paper, smiled at me, and asked if I knew the one that was not filled in.  I explained I did, but had drawn a blank.  “Alabama,” was all he said.  Damn!  I knew that.

This competitiveness is really just down-to-earth determination.  It manifests itself in many ways.

I was in Bermuda.  I had gone to visit my then girlfriend along with a buddy of mine.  We were there for two weeks.  During the first couple days, my girlfriend and I ended our long relationship.  Yet there was still plenty of time remaining in this vacation.  One day we were out at an island and we decided this might be a good time to learn how to scuba dive.  The girl was a dive instructor.  So we all put on the gear, learned a bit about the equipment, and got wet.  I was experiencing some trouble getting down.  You see, as I would learn later, I am very bouyant.  Some people are just that way.  It takes extra lead and many years of experience for me to get underwater easily.  Anyhow, back to that first time, as I was scrambling to “sink”, she grabbed my wet suit and dragged me under.  If you have never had the displeasure of that event, let me inform you that it is awful!  Like one might expect, I panicked.  Out of the water I went, venting the entire time.  “What kind of instructor would do that to a student?” I yelled.  I tore myself out of the gear and vowed not to go back in.

Yet, once I got back to the States and re-located back to New Jersey, the first significant post-break-up activity I did was learn how to dive.  I had ended that relationship having not only failed in the romance, but also in the sport.  Although she would never know of my accomplishment, for me it was necessary to conquer my fear of diving and learn this skill that had been such a public humiliation.

And even this speech is a step towards resolving an issue.  Ever since I stammered in a public speaking event in sixth grade, I have avoided the lectern whenever I could.  Yet, knowing I had something to prove, if only to myself, I joined Toastmasters for my improvement.

Mr. Toastmaster.

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