Note: The following is the basis of my first (Icebreaker) speech that I gave to the Staples Toastmasters club on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. I did fairly well, and received a lot of encouragement, although I know I need to work on not reading my notes, project my voice to reach the back of the room, keep my hands at my sides, and, most importantly, to give myself more time for preparation.
The Toastmaster introduced me with the following, which I wrote:
Stanley Dankoski finally joined Toastmasters in July this year after sitting in the guest chair since March. He remembers his first meeting, the speeches on that day, and the warmth, encouragement and support he saw everyone give each other. He has been impressed with progress his companions have made here. He hopes today will be the beginning of the next phase of his life, when he can look back on the progress he will have made in becoming a more confident public speaker.
Thank you, Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and guests.
Until just recently, I had not been aware of the fact that I have had a fairly interesting life. I have lived for nearly 32 years, three whole decades. I muddled through it, persevering through hardships that not many people have had the opportunity to experience. But I didn’t realize how significant those experiences were until two people this summer told me my story could appeal to the masses.
Last month, I met up with an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since the fifth grade. We were at his uncle’s Indian restaurant in Providence, catching up. I told him my family had moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where I last saw him, to northern Maine in the summer of 1988. My father had always wanted to be a dairy farmer, so he decided to move us toward his dream.
That fall, on 160 acres of land, we built the basement of a house. We covered it up, and lived in the cellar during the cold, harsh winter.
We planned to build the rest of the house the next spring. And we started to. But we ran out of money.
As I related this to my friend, he grew more intrigued. I told him that we built the skeleton of the house: The two-by-fours delineating the rooms, the chimney, the roof, electricity and just a roll or two of insulation. We didn’t have enough money to finish it.
And we lived in that cellar for 10 long years.
At this point in the story, I paused to let my friend allow that to sink in. His forkful of rice was halfway to his mouth. He stopped, and eyed me. “You know, this could be a TV movie,” he said.
And that was before I told him there was no privacy in the cellar, living with my parents and two younger sisters. There was only a bathroom, and then the rest of it. We used bureaus and racks of clothes as makeshift walls. I lived there through my formative years, during high school and college, when I needed privacy the most.
During sophomore year, my father found out he had lung cancer and died of an aneurysm. After many failed attempts, he never became a dairy farmer, and we all knew how upset he had been about that. This drove me to do whatever it took to do what I had wanted – to become a writer.
I wrote for the college paper and the local newspaper. I focused on nothing else, although I did have a budding interest in web design. After graduating, I was a small-town reporter for a few years. I ended up developing their website and soon became a freelance web developer. I started freelancing with Staples two years ago August, and became an employee this past January.
When I moved to Mass. in 2007, I thought it would be the dawn of professional development. Instead, it was a time of great personal growth. I realized I wasn’t happy with my life. I learned that I wasn’t living my life to my full potential.
After the end of a yearlong relationship last summer, I began to do meditation. That’s how I met Surendar, through the lunchtime meditation group here. He even introduced me to Toastmasters, and for both activities I am grateful.
During this time, I’ve also been going to a Buddhist sangha, where we discuss how we can lead happier lives. I’ve learned a lot about myself, how I react to people, and how to deal with pains of the past. Plus, I’ve learned I still want to be a writer. Somehow, I had lost track of that.
This past April, I met my girlfriend at a writers conference. A week later, on our first date, I gave her a brief rundown of my life story. “You know,” she said, “you have a lot of material for a memoir.”
And it’s true. I can only say so much in 6 minutes. Believing that no one would care if I had lived at all is not the best way to live my life. It took a while to realize, that although I came from meager beginnings, I did persevere. I was not satisfied with a meager life. I chose a path that may not have been straightforward. But with much more certainty now, I can forge ahead. There is so much more to do, and so many more years to do it.