How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I recently competed in the International Speech Contest in one of my Toastmasters clubs. I was fortunate enough to win not only the club contest, but also the Area and Division Level contests. Last weekend, I had the rare opportunity to compete against the best speakers from eight other divisions in District 40 Toastmasters, one of whom was my husband.  While I didn’t win that round, I can honestly say my speech improved with every presentation and based on the comments I received, it still touched a few hearts and brought a few laughs. Below is the blog version of my competition speech.

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I teach in an affluent middle school with over 1,000 kids and I live with a 5th and an 8th grader. And those children are forever telling me how tough their lives are. Like when I assign them homework or ask them to take a shower… #FirstWorldProblems They think I’m soooo lucky to be an adult. And they’re right. I am very fortunate. But we all know life is never without challenges. Like many of you, I have traveled a pretty rough road.

When I was a baby, my mom called me a spider monkey because I was a long, skinny preemie. I weighed just under four pounds and I spent the first of month of my life in the hospital.

By the time I was one or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t developing quite like other kids. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t control the left side of my body. I was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy. I was clumsy and awkward. I was the kid who wore special shoes. I was the kid who couldn’t run fast and never got picked for kick ball in gym class. I was the kid voted most likely to get stuck in the ball pit at Sea World. No, really, when I was four, I actually got stuck in the ball pit at Sea world. #TrueStory It took two dumbfounded teenage employees twenty minutes to drag me out!

In high school, one kindhearted young man used to walk by me in the halls and growl “ARGH, me peg-leg! And in Spanish class, they used to draw pictures of Super Chicken on the board with a speech bubble that read, “Me llamo Ana.” They made up a dance and everything. Because they said I walked like a chicken. Needless to say, those things didn’t exactly foster self-confidence. (Side note: Yes, I chose the name Ana so that I could be Anna Devane.) #GeneralHospital

When I was seven, my dad decided to divorce my mom. Since I’d listen to my parents fight for years, it was really a relief to be with just my mom. But that still meant I became the child of a single parent. We no longer had the money to buy the name brand clothes and toys. So, I was not only physically handicapped, I was fashion handicapped too. #TeenNightmare Later, while my college friends were bumming money from their parents to go shopping or out to lunch, I was working multiple jobs to pay for my books, insurance, clothes, and food, and helping my mother pay the rent.

When I do tell my kids stories from my childhood, they tend to stare back in wide-eyed horror. #SpoiledButDontKnowIt And I have to remind them that while I may have hit a few potholes, I also saw some beautiful sights and learned a few lessons on the road of life.

First, I learned to work hard. I learned to studied hard, I showed up and gave my best effort, even on my worst day. I made mistakes, but I learned from my mistakes. I got grit.

I also learned to surround myself with the right people. I wasn’t popular in school. I had about two friends. But those two friends were true friends who loved me for everything I was, and maybe everything I wasn’t. I was also fortunate to find people like my high school English teacher, Debi Mansour,  who gave me my first and only D on a paper. Like most of my students, I thought my life was over. I was so mad at her! It took me a while to realize that she did it because she loved me and knew I was capable of more. It’s thanks to others like her, my karate instructor, my dance teacher, my husband, and my closest coworkers, that I’m reminded to focus on what I can do, what I do well, rather than what I can’t. They believe in me but push me to be better every day.

Lastly, I learned to love and respect myself. I used to think I was a total weirdo because I played with Barbie dolls way longer than most kids and one summer I kept a journal with the happenings of three different soap operas. Seriously, who does that? I still love soaps. I go to conventions to meet the stars. Several times a year. So, I’m a little eccentric. But I realize now the “crazy” are what fuel my creativity and heighten my sense of drama. They’re the things that make me a better writer and a more interesting teacher. They’re the things that make me who I am, the things that make me happy. If others think it’s weird, well… As my grandma used to say, “If they don’t like it, they can look the other way.”

Life will never be without struggles. But be willing to accept the challenges. In the long run, the fight is what builds character. Find the people who challenge you and support you, and if you want to be happy with life, be happy with yourself.

As for me, I’m proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a published author. I have learned and taught ballroom dance and earned a brown belt in Kenpo karate. Okay… it’s not a black belt. But I’ve come long way from that timid girl called Super Chicken. Folks, this chicken has crossed that proverbial road, bumpy as it was, and you all can, too. Join me on the other side!

Insanity Now

For those of you who were alarmed by the title – no, it is not a counterattack on Susan Powter, the 90’s fitness guru, who encouraged us to “Stop the insanity!” It is, in fact, a tip sheet with advice on what to do and what not to do to win a Humorous Speech contest. Some of you may be thinking, “Don’t compete in the first place!” But that is not my advice. Speech contests, while scary and nerve-wracking, are also entertaining and exciting. Going to a Toastmasters Area contest is always a great networking and educational experience. If you want the additional satisfaction of taking home a trophy, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. Do practice. Practice frequently. Practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror. Stomp around in your living room to practice staging. Talk to yourself, no matter who’s watching, and no matter how ridiculous it makes you feel.
  2. Do not forget to put the time and place on your calendar and then proceed to forget about the contest entirely until the day before.
  3. Do get a good night’s sleep on the eve of the contest.
  4. Do not assume that six hours of sleep will be sufficient. If you go out with friends and dance until after midnight, chances are, even your new Mary Kay makeup will not be enough to hide the dark circles, and you will not have the energy needed to put on your best show. (Especially if you are old enough to remember Susan Powter in the first place.)
  5. Do everything you can to prepare for the contest in advance, so you can feel confident the day of, and remain unshaken when the competition appears funnier than you.
  6. Do not sweat it. If the contestant before you gives a speech titled “Insanity Now” about suffering at the hands of his wife on a torturous trip to the grocery store, in an amusing accent, with great gestures and expressions… chances are, you’re going to lose anyway. Sit back, relax, and enjoy it!