Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The War Within - Toastmasters Speech #10

The War Within – Toastmasters Speech #10

There is no instruction manual for life. At times we all wish that there was some clear set path for what to do and what direction to follow. Maybe in the form of a voice booming out from the sky, telling us what is right for our life. But this could never work because life is not actually a journey, not a straight path towards a destination. Life is a battle, a constant struggle between two great forces.
Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and all my fellow warriors in this battle we call life.

Before I describe the two sides, I think all of us have already experienced them. Every day we face a multitude of choices. Most of these choices have become so routine that we make them in our subconscious. But it is not the individual smaller choices that really defines us, but rather the large choice of what direction in which we are moving our lives.

Growing up, I was always following the goal, “do well in school, take a hard major, get a safe, secure job”. I put the time and effort in to do well and graduate as quickly as I could. After graduation, I had lined up a good job and was ready to reap the rewards of my diligence and hard work. But when I started working, I realized something was wrong.

Looking at my life, everything read so well on paper. I had accomplished all my goals, avoided all the classic pitfalls, and had done all that should have been required for success. But stats and credentials on paper never seem to capture the whole picture. I had thought that the battle was over and I had won, but in reality, the internal struggle had just begun.

So what is this struggle? On one side, we have what we know in our core we want, what will validate us, what will give our lives the purpose that we desire. This is our essence, our driving force, our true motivation and the only real guide book that exists for our lives. It is unique to us and something that we can only determine on our own, by learning who we are and what makes us that way.

On the other side, we have the enemies fighting against us. They take many forms, like feelings such as fear, doubt, and uncertainty. External forces like peer pressure, a sense of keeping up with the Jones’, and society’s path for our lives. Even temptations like fame, fortune or power. One or all of these or others may influence us. They trick us into thinking we should try be a different person, follow someone else’s dream or think less of ourselves.

This can affect us in a wide variety of ways. We could spend time with the wrong crowd of people, who can influence us to think negatively or participate in destructive acts. We could work a job we hate just for the money and fear that we have no alternative ways to create income. We could stay in an abusive relationship because we feel that no one else would want us. Any or all of these things weigh on us since we know it is not what we want, but the fear is too great to move forward.

Our world celebrates the stories of great individuals that have come before, people who have a list of amazing accomplishments. The focus is always the end of the struggle, where they reach a level of success that makes an impact on the world. But a key element that is often brushed quickly aside is the deep price paid to walk the path to greatness. Often they were forced to let go of all they had, fall to the point where they had nothing left except their passion for what they wanted to define their lives. Once they had nothing left to lose, only then were they able to know with absolute certainty what was really important.

I cannot claim to know what you want, only you can know that. I do know that we all share this deep desire to be ourselves, to know our purpose and to leave our mark. It is not easy to do this. Often it is only the flames of conflict, the pounding force of loss, and the intimidating fear of confronting the unknown that inspires this personal growth.

How do we begin to change the tide in this battle? How do we take control of our life and take the right path? How do we really know what we want? By listening to ourselves. We all already have the right answer, we just have to start being true to it. It may not be easy, but we don’t have to do it all at once, we just have to take the first step.

So I encourage you to take that next step. Challenge the fear head on and push it back. Take the risk, pay the price and know that the battles may be difficult, but you will win the war within.

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