This was the speech that I wrote for my entry in a recent speech contest. It got me first place in the club, area, and division level as a first time contestant. Once my body gets over this cold virus, I’ll record the audio file for those who want the audio version. For more information about the competition background and my thought process in the construction of this speech, please scroll toward the end of the article.
“That I Am”
Copyright 2007 by Jane Chin, All Rights Reserved.
Have you ever wondered why you believe what you believe about who you are? Do you know how easily you may form beliefs that can direct years – sometimes decades of your life?
When I was ten years old – I was afraid of the dark, as children that age tend to be. I didn’t understand how my mom and dad slept with arms and legs exposed to the monsters that plagued me at night. I was amazed that adults could get up in the middle of the night and walk – by themselves – to the kitchen for a snack (especially when they’re on a diet).
One day, I asked my dad why he wasn’t afraid of the dark.
My dad said, “Jane, when you get married, you stop being afraid of the dark.”
When I was that ten year old little girl, I thought my dad had given me a warning. I thought that being married must be SO scary, Adults weren’t afraid of the dark because they faced a scarier monster every single day as married people! In an instant – I had formed a belief about marriage.
Now I understand that what my dad meant was that when you become of marrying age – in most countries you would be an adult -you would not be afraid of the dark the way children would be. If I had asked him a few more clarifying questions, I’d have saved myself from years of marriage-phobia.
But I was one of those children brought up to be seen and not heard. I was taught not to question. If you are like me, from the time you knew that you could think, you were immediately taught to stop thinking. Instead, you were taught to obey orders, achieve goals, and strive for success so you could arrive at happiness.
Let’s fast forward in the life of this little girl, and the beliefs she adopted along the way.
When I was 24 years old, I wrote down a set of these beliefs.
I believed that I must always achieve to be worth something.
I believed my self esteem came on paper and from the lips of other people.
I believed that if I earned a Ph.D. and gained recognition in my field, I would finally feel like I have value.
To support these beliefs, I strived.
I strived to be the best.
I strived to be number one.
I strived to be the best at being number one!
Over time, this striving grew poisonous and heavy.
I began taking myself out of any race where I was afraid I could lose. Then I began taking myself out of any situation where I feared I could fail. Finally, I began suffocating inside, until one day, I stopped feeling alive at all.
But, I achieved goals! I even managed to impress a few people! Why did I feel empty still?
Have you ever arrived at a goal you had worked so hard for, only to ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”
Have you ever sprinted as fast as you can as far as you can to achieve – because you want to feel good enough or worthy of love?
I have, and by now you can see, it didn’t work for me.
I held beliefs that earned me a black belt in thought-obedience and self-loathing. I became severely depressed in my twenties. For years, I struggled to figure out who I really was and why.
Now I want to share with you another set of beliefs that I had written down. These are the beliefs that guide me today at age 35. These are beliefs that will guide me at age 45, 65, even 105.
“I am That I believe I am. My self esteem does not sway to criticism or flattery. I have crystal clear vision of my true self even if I can’t see where life takes me.
I believe success and strength come from living in integrity. I am not here – as you are not here – to live up to expectations. I am here to experience and to enjoy life.”
Isn’t this set of beliefs diametrically opposed to those written by that 24 year-old? What if I tell you that I wrote both sets of these beliefs in 1996, Within 10 days of each other, when I WAS that depressed 24 year-old?
You see, I am like many people – maybe even some of you. For a long time I kept reaching outside for answers, because I did not believe that if I looked within, I would find anything there.
Yet even from an abyss of depression, even when I did not trust that I knew what I knew, the answers have always been there, waiting, to emerge from silence.
It took a decade for me to open my eyes and see my two selves. A false self that feeds in darkness, and a true self that gives the light of the heart.
Friends, you may have seen a mask – a false self – that is given to you. You have also seen your true self who came to life as You Are. You get to choose which self you believe.
Now, I can’t promise that being your true Self will make you better looking. But I guarantee you will finally feel fulfilled. You will know that being “as you are” is good enough and worthy of love.
So next time, instead of striving after what you should want, go after what you DO want. Instead of always about “lining up your ducks in a row”, jump into the pond and frolic with the ducks. It can be fun. And remember:
In your darkest moments – the light in your heart always shows the way.
Postscript: I did not win the district-level speech contest. I was very satisfied with my performance (and I tend to be hyper-self-critical) because afterwards, I had people of all ages and colors – black, white, asian – men and women – come up to me and tell me that they felt as if I was speaking about them. Many people resonated with the “seen and not heard” statement. I knew that I had fulfilled one of my original intentions in entering the speech contest in the first place (to get my message across to as many people as I could).
For those of you who may be familiar with Toastmasters speech contests, the international speech contest category progresses as follows: club, area, division, district, regional, and world. I’ve been a Toastmasters member for about 7 months and recently completed the Competent Communicator designation (formerly “CTM”).
This version of the speech came from another speech I gave as part of the CC designation. The way I reworked the speech is to create internal rhythm within a paragraph so that each idea tends to fall into a group of 3 sentences. This internal rhythm helped me with memorizing the speech. Most importantly, I “tested the speech content for heart”: if I got goosebumps in the right areas of the speech (example, the paragraphs beginning with “I am That I believe I am”) then I knew the speech spoke true for me and I could keep the sentence. This probably explains why I rewrote the speech at least 20 times before I was satisfied with the version I ultimately delivered.
Finally, and this may be more philosophical – the accurate way to describe “I am that I believe I am” should be “I am that I am” (not “I am what I am” or even “I am that I believe I am”). This is because other permutations of “I am that I am” may give rise to false predication, as I’ve described at length in an other blog. However, after carefully considering common speech patterns and the reality that most of the audience members are not academic philosophers, and the fact that I only had 5-7 minutes to deliver a complex idea, I went with a compromise of “I am that I believe I am.” This also explains why the title was purposely truncated at “That I am”.
P.S. Some people have asked me if this was a “true story”. Yes, this was/is a true story. I did write two very different sets of beliefs in one of my journals from the year 1996. I had to paraphrase the ideas since the two sets of beliefs spanned over 10 pages each.
Originally published: May 17, 2007 @ 13:23