Beware of Oracles in Nordic Gear

The following story is a transcript of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters Club. It was the first speech in a series of 10 to achieve a Competent Communicator award. The first speech is called the ‘icebreaker’ and is typically designed for the speaker to become comfortable speaking and the audience to learn a bit about the speaker.

Recently I took a road trip to Sun Valley to visit a friend over her birthday weekend. On our laundry list of things we decided to do was drive up to Galena to go skate skiing. After some discussion, we both decided that it might be fun to take a lesson and improve our skills a bit. Learn a few new tips, break any bad habits, just have a good time.

Enter John – our 20-something instructor who quickly assessed our abilities and starting offering feedback.

For example, he told me I looked quite serious and was clearly focused, but he wanted to make sure I was having fun too. I assured him that this was my kind of fun and not to worry.

Then he told me that things would fall into place if I committed more. I stopped in the middle of what I thought was my beautiful V1 and looked back at him – huh? I asked what he meant.

“Well, you seem to lack commitment – like you’re afraid.”

I stared at him like he had turned into some sort of sage oracle in nordic gear. A bit nervously, I dared to ask, “We are still talking about skiing, aren’t we?”

Later I thought about what John had said in the context of getting to know someone. Without many facts, the things we typically share when introducing ourselves, he had pretty much nailed 3 key attributes about me in record time:

  • quite serious
  • clearly focused
  • afraid of commitment (but I promise that one only applies to skiing…)

When we first meet someone new, we’re an advertisement of our best qualities. We include a little spin and toss in a shiny thing or two, hoping to distract the audience from what we perceive to be our weaker features.

Given time, of course, we reveal more about ourselves whether we mean to or not. This is when the real knowing begins. It begs the question of whether or not the facts, the resume, are of any value. Should I spend any of my precious time with you today rattling off stats like a crazed baseball fan during the World Series?

It seems to me that the answer must be ‘yes’. After all, it’s a bit off-putting to walk up to someone for the first time and say, “Hi! My name’s Dana. I’m quite serious, clearly focused, and afraid of commitment. It’s so nice to meet you!”

The facts are the framework, the foundation upon which everything else can be placed. So here’s my foundation:

  • Born in Hawaii to a military family;
  • One older sister who made it her childhood mission to convince me I had been adopted. She still mentions it on occasion;
  • One 10-year old niece who freely and openly still believes in Santa Claus;
  • Parents who are still together, but live in fear of what their children will conjure up for next January’s 50th wedding anniversary;
  • Recipient of what I refer to as a ‘patchwork’ diploma in Mathematics, as I studied for 2 years at Florida State, one at East Carolina, and my final one on a study abroad program in Scotland;
  • Like many in Park City, I’m an east coast transplant;
  • I’ve been here for 16 years by way of North Carolina;
  • I’ve been in the software industry for as long as I’ve been in Park City;
  • No pets, no kids, no spouse.

And the window dressing?

Well, most of that will have to wait for another day. For now, I’ll let you know that I’ve crafted together something of a nomadic life, no doubt influenced by years of a military upbringing. While maintaining a home base in Park City, I’ve spent considerable time living and working in Australia, Germany, and now Italy. I love observing different cultures, not only as a way to learn about others, but as a window into myself and my own culture. It turns a dualistic world of right and wrong, and black and white on its ear to see how other cultures quite happily operate.

From climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia, to hiking in the Yellow Mountains of China, to riding camels in the Australian outback, I am continuously in awe of the variety that the world has to offer.

And, for the record, I’ll be back in Galena next year, hoping to see Nordic Oracle John and show him my fully-committed V1. You see, I have something to prove now – that’s just who I am.

Muse with Me!

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