I have to admit that I participated in the obligatory walk-a-thons, bowl-a-
thons, and everything-else-a-thons because I was asked—or told in
some cases—to attend. I worked for a company that encouraged involvement in the community and helping others, almost to a fault. I felt forced, at times, to participate. Many times, I just went through the motions. I donated money to causes and donated my time based on whichever path
the company took me. My heart was not in it early in my career because,
selfishly, I did not see what was in it for me. I saw many smiling faces from
appreciative people and saw large amounts of money raised to help special
causes. However, I could not see, yet, what I got out of those events.
After I got married, I watched my incredible wife selflessly give up
her time and effort to help out children, neighbors, communities, and
schools. All were done unconditionally and with an admirable eagerness.
I, again selfishly, did not appreciate her efforts all the time and found
myself getting upset when she would invest significant amounts of her
time to a cause I did not truly understand. I had yet to identify with the
contagious nature of voluntarily getting involved. I mean getting involved
not because I was told I should, but because others needed the helping
hand and it was the right thing to do.
We have a company dedicated to helping developmentally challenged
individuals right across the street from my house. I slowly started
to understand the meaning of some of the smiles on my neighbors’ faces
when my wife spent a lot of her time helping to raise money for their
facilities. They, in turn, went through a daily ritual to feed my dog biscuits.
It was comical and hit a chord with me. My message here is to not
necessarily find the one cause and dedicate all of your time (although this
is a great option). The message is to find a place in your heart where the
unconditional aspects of your involvement come flooding out.
My first real taste of pure enjoyment in volunteering came when I was
asked to participate in a small town group of people interested in bringing
the sport of lacrosse to our community. I had played in high school
in Pennsylvania at a time when there were approximately twenty teams
playing in the entire state. My high school coach learned the game from
clinics and from a book he carried in his back pocket. He dedicated his
time to teaching us something we all grew to love. We weren’t very good,
but we became a team of great friends, learned about sportsmanship, and
were able to give a virtually unknown local sport a little attention.
The new volunteer group created a nonprofit organization, received
donated equipment, and held clinics for young kids. I had a blast for the
year of my involvement. When I taught the younger kids how to play, I
saw a look on their faces that showed me how excited they were to begin
something special. Less than five years later, the effort grew to a club team
at the high school level, prior to becoming a varsity program for boys and
girls. As my kids grew older, I started to assist with the youth soccer programs. The pure enjoyment of watching kids learn and play an organized event is unbelievably contagious.
On the work front, I previously noted that I joined Toastmasters
International to boost my own résumé. Part of my reasoning was the pull
to get more involved in newly developed groups at work. Toastmasters
was one of a few new clubs that came as an offshoot of a small group of
grassroots leaders from the company who felt we had to do more on site.
The goal of this grassroots group was to advance diversity and get more
people involved in things they believed in. I knew that I could lead the
new Toastmasters group after it had stalled for almost a year since originally being chartered.
The company encouraged Toastmaster’s participation, so I knew
it would be a positive step for me professionally. I was almost instantly
obsessed with the start-up Toastmasters operation. I was amazed at how
quickly people started to get caught up in the benefits of Toastmasters.
There were multiple people who were hesitant to even show up as guests,
let alone stand up in front of a group of people. Yet, when they did, their
mistakes turned into learning, which turned into greater confidence in
ability. I saw people who said over thirty “um’s” and “ah’s” in their first
four-minute speech, provide a perfectly organized and formulated seven-minute speech with proper grammar (and no filler words) less than three
Toastmasters challenged my abilities to effectively balance work,
family, and other obligations. I found, with smart planning, that I could
do them all effectively. My wife unconditionally supported every move
I made with the club. I started to emerge as a respected leader on the
work campus, and I found that my communication skills improved and
were getting noticed. I was getting something out of it, but that was no
longer my sole motivation to be there. I saw the value of teaching others
and watching them gain self-confidence. Because of Toastmasters, I even
wrote a speech about my first visit to the Maine State Special Olympics
that turned into befriending the company’s Special Olympic team and
becoming a committed volunteer.
Our Toastmasters club had an active military person who had presented
his manager with a prestigious national award. He was embarrassed
for himself and knew he could improve his presentation skills. He
joined our group and went after his personal goal to achieve his communication
certification with fervor and impatience. He had a lust to learn
and improve. He was called to active duty and brought his Toastmasters
manuals with him and still pursued his goals to get certified. He was the
third person in the club to achieve this certification. He achieved his own
personal goals, and I burst with pride watching the drive to accomplish
something that meant so much to him and his family.
I saw people in our club get involved in order to build up their leadership
and communication skills, and then became successful club officers.
The club grew from the original two people to a fairly consistent level of
twenty five members in less than eighteen months. Our club partnered
with other internal work groups to assist them with their communication
and leadership skills, and soon we found ourselves expanding beyond
our original vision. I joined for myself, and found myself staying for others.
It was contagious.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby