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Make the leap

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18 Again

Tonight I made my first big speech for Toastmasters — an organization that focuses on building communication skills. The purpose of my 5-7min talk would be an introduction. It needed to be personal, clear and structured. This is what I ended up with:

Good evening Fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

Today, I stand before you in the same place where many of you have been before or will be soon, and I am faced with a challenge I’ve never had before.

In fact, I’ve avoided this moment since my 18th birthday, when I escaped the spotlight at the center of a traditional and elaborate party known as a “debut” – which would have would have involved among other Filipino things 18 roses, 18 candles and a carefully choreographed dance number.

I have never spoken solely about myself for an extended period of time. I strongly believe that a person’s character is revealed through their actions more than their words, so instead I’d like to focus on three major accomplishments that changed my life.

I enrolled at York in 2002 as a mature student and honestly wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a living, and hoped that a degree would help me figure it out. But between the assignments and exams, I walked into the campus newspaper's office one day to write an article and ended up stumbling onto something that gave my life new focus.

By the time I graduated, I was a Managing Editor and built strong friendships with other Excalibur colleagues like Shetu along the way [Note: Shetu is also a member at Toastmasters who brought me in to join the group and was present during my speech]. There, I had not only found something that combined words and images, two creative outlets I loved, I was actually good at it and connected with others who shared my passion. I went to Centennial College for a post-graduate program in Book & Magazine publishing and expected to build a career as an editor, but things turned in a slightly different direction after an unexpected visit from a guest speaker in my class.

At this point, I was already beginning to think magazines were actually quite boring — editorial content would often be planned so far in advance that the articles weren’t timely or relevant by the time they were published. Print newspapers were also unappealing because they were too high pressure and lacked flexibility. So when Robin visited our class and said she worked for a new site at the time called OurFaves.com, I leapt at the chance at a web internship.

I was intrigued by the innovative possibilities offered by the Internet, and was excited that OurFaves also happened to be a user-generated review site similar to Yelp.com or TripAdvisor. I became the very first intern they’d ever had, and enthusiastically worked unpaid for the entire summer until I was eventually hired on to their staff.

Although I no longer work for the website now, I am fortunate enough to say that my time there became the start of my career in digital media. Three years later, I now work as a social media coordinator for a group-buying deal site called WagJag.com (similar to Groupon) and my passion for words and images is now accompanied by codes, tweets and apps.

Social media and the web are topics I can talk about forever, and it has both personal as well as professional significance in my life. Around the same time I got my first job out of school, my aunt Ninang Lynn was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer despite never smoking a day in her life. This terrible disease brought my family together to do our best to take care of her, but ultimately we still felt helpless — we could only try to make her as comfortable as possible while the cancer spread. I wanted to do something, anything, that felt like positive action and enlisted to join the Princess Margaret Hospital’s Ride to Conquer Cancer.

It was incredibly demanding and at one point even my own family was worried I couldn’t do it, but I knew I could. Using social media and the power of the bake sale, I raised the minimum $2500 required to participate. I bought a bike and cycled 200km from Toronto to Niagara Falls even though when I started I was out of shape. While posting status updates and photos to my Facebook supporters throughout my entire journey, I wore a custom-made shirt with the names and photos of family members who passed away due to cancer and wasn’t able to see me complete my ride — Ninang Lynn was one of them.

It was a bittersweet moment when I crossed the finish line with my family and my boyfriend waiting for me, but I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment and pride I felt that day.

Looking back at all of these major life-changing moments — at York, at OurFaves and even at the Ride to Conquer Cancer — I see now that they happened because I took action, the very same initiative that brings me here with you today.

Earlier, I said that my Introduction speech is a challenge I’ve never faced before. Experience, however, taught me that we can do anything we set our minds on doing — even if it involves rambling on about yourself longer than usual. It’s an empowering and scary thought, although, as my 18-year-old self would argue,  perhaps not nearly as frightening as being 18 again.

I think it went well, I was nervous but overall I had positive feedback on my delivery. For people who already know me, it’s no surprise to see the places included in my list of “life-changing moments”. But it helps to see it for yourself. Check out my video of crossing the finish line below. You can see my mom at the right-hand side after she jumped the fence waving her arms at the 1:18 mark!

Filed under Ride to Conquer Cancer Digital Media career public speaking newspaper web Social media accomplishments