Sink or Swim
Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome?
Oh my? You just want to know about ONE time?
You see, I have the uncanny ability to get myself in sink or swim situations DAILY. It is actually pretty amazing that I am even around here to write this today. I probably should have “sank” long ago, but somehow, I get those arms and legs moving and keep my head above water.
My first remembrance of this feeling came at the age of 15 when I joined my high school Forensics Team. NO, it was not a team of teenagers who went out on crime scene investigation field trips (although that totally would have been awesome), but rather a group of kids who were speech and theatre lovers. We would load up on a clunky, drafty school bus each Saturday morning and head off to Forensic Competitions, where we competed against other speech and theatre geeks in theatrics, speech and debate.
My best friend in High School, Beth, convinced me to join the team and do some crazy event, called Extemporaneous Speaking, or Extemp for short. I was young, cocky, and up for a challenge, so I said, “Why not?”
Let me give you the low down on this event. You were taken to a room with 20-30 other contestants, and when you’re number was called you were given three topics in which you chose one and then had 30 minutes to write a 7 minute memorized speech on.
I went to my first tournament full of excitement, anticipation, and cockiness. I was dressed in my best business suit and looked pretty darn fly. For you non 90’s generation readers, that meant I looked awesome. Our little team carried in our small files of Newsweek and Time Magazines we could use for references during our speech. I actually had subscriptions to both. Don’t you dare judge me. I was an awkward teenager.
As I entered the library where our event was housed, I noticed there were a lot of competitors dressed in business suits who looked more like law school graduates then 16 and 17 year old high school kids. There were briefcases, shiny loafers , high heels, and some teams had to bring in their reference boxes in on dollies.
It didn’t take long for me to realize… I was getting ready to sink.
One by one each of the contestants were called up to receive their speech topics. I watched as they confidently went opened the topic and went to their table to begin their speech. I could feel myself go under water a little each time someone’s number was called.
Then they called MY number…..
I crawled up to the counter and humbly took my topics. Twenty-five years later I can’t remember two of the topics, but I remember the one I picked:
“Should Dr. Jack Kevorkian be prosecuted for his role in a recent assisted suicide?”
I went back to my table and stared for a good 10 minutes at the topic. I feverishly looked through my nerdy magazines for anything on the topic, finally finding ONE article that was totally useless. It was then I realized, I was sinking….fast.
Suddenly I was in full panic mode. If I didn’t do something fast, I was dead in the water.
Thankfully, I have a flare for the dramatic, so I decided to go with my acting instincts, and play a role. I would totally act like I knew what I was talking about, without perjuring myself in the process. I quickly gathered what little info I had, made my outline, and said a prayer.
My name was called. It was time. I clung to my small index card outline like it was my life raft. I entered the room and there was just me and the judge. She never smiled, and didn’t laugh at the corny joke I told before I started.
That was that. I was in deep waters now. I had to speak, or I was going to drown and be hauled out by the deep sea rescue team.
Like magic, my mouth opened and the words poured out of me like a fountain. I was bold, I was dramatic, I was confident, and I was totally full of crap. I had ZERO idea what I was saying. ZILCH. NADA. NO CLUE. But I spoke with such conviction, and passion, that I even inspired myself.
As I walked back to the library and forced myself to endure the other two rounds, that were just as brutal, I realized that I would live. After lunch I went to the designated spot to see who had made it to the final round. While I had survived, I had no expectations of breaking into the final round. Imagine my shock when right there printed on the finals sheet was my name and number. They wanted me to compete for the win!
I went on to compete in the final round and ended up winning 5th place that day. Not too shabby.
As the years progressed I won several tournaments, and in college I was State Champ two years in a row.
The moral of this story is: When you are put in a position of having to sink or swim. Don’t go limp. Move those arms and legs, and take a chance that you’ll make it to shore.
Also it is 25 years later and I STILL have NO clue what I am talking about half the time, but you’ll never know it. I’m just that good.
I will leave you with this small gem. My sister Sarah and I showing off our Forensics winnings after a tournament in 1993. Yeah. We’re STILL cool.
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