Going back to work is exhilarating, empowering and...scary.
is full of many physical and emotional hurdles that need to be overcome
as we consider leaving our homes and getting back into the office. It
fills us with worry. We worry about the kids, missing them and missing
out on school events or their developmental milestones, we worry about
them loving their sitters more, we worry about ourselves. I was filled
with self doubt when I started my search and dream to return to work
after being home with my three children for 10 years, but my ambition
and drive to return to work was greater than my fear of returning to
work. I found tools and resources to help me find my way back, many in
obvious places and some in not so obvious places. For me, I found one of
the most supportive resources in one of these seemingly unlikely
places: at my local Toastmasters club.
My return to work was a journey. When I left, I was a manager of a software engineering team in San Francisco. Being at home for 10 years meant my software skills were outdated, so I needed to get creative and get a new career. At one stage, I tried to start my own business. It was a website that catered to young families...suggesting local entertainment and family events appropriate for your families stage and needs. The plan was to get local services to advertise on my website. It was hard to balance the workload with toddlers. There were times when I would sit on the floor surrounded by legos, hot-wheels cars and children, wishing I was in front of the computer and, when I got in front of the computer I felt guilty I was not spending time with the kids. I felt like I wasn't serving the website or the children very well, so I put that aside.
Then, I took a website design course and I built a website for my sister-in-law's preschool. There are several free resources available online from many universities. The effort of building the site and access to resources helped me refresh my skills and get more confident in my job application process. The result was I started to get called for interviews.
I hadn't had a prolonged “technical” conversation with anyone in 10 years, I started to panic. At that time a friend had been telling me how much she enjoyed Toastmasters. I was curious about how much she enjoyed it. After all, I had heard that for some people the fear of speaking in public is greater than the fear of dying!
I agreed to attend a meeting with her, everyone was very nice, welcoming and supportive. At the break they served tea and cookies and chatted about what brought them back to this terrifying hobby, week after week. In fact, they were so hospitable and supportive, I somehow joined that evening AND signed up to give my first speech in two weeks time. What?!
A few of my mom friends asked me why I would ever want to join Toastmasters because it seemed like such a scary thing to do, but that was exactly why I did it...I wanted to scare myself and put myself outside my comfort zone. I found interviewing intimidating and scary. I wanted to tackle that and I felt improving my confidence with public speaking would give me a confidence boost for interviewing.
The Toastmasters club consisted of young professionals looking to improve their presentation composition and overcome their fear of public speaking. Some were sales professionals who loved sales and wanted to work on their story telling skills. Some were retired and wanted meaningful and intellectual social interactions and stimulation. Some were high school teachers who had also started a club in the local school. They came from all walks of life and kept returning every two weeks. They were also eloquent, captivating and beautiful speakers. They held the room with their words and presence. They assured us newer members, they didn't start off like that, they grew into that in this safe, supportive environment. I was drawn to this network of self improvers, these lifelong learners.
The night before my first speech I stood in my friend's kitchen practicing, while she rolled pastry for apple tarts. She made me repeat my speech enough times that it felt less frightening, almost comfortable. The familiar smell of her kitchen, with lingering smells from their earlier dinner and her warm, encouraging face smiling back at me, is the memory I have of my first speech.
I have since joined another club and have served as President, VP of PR, Finance, Secretary and many other roles for the Toastmasters club, all of which have enabled me to grow my leadership skills too. Toastmasters has so much to offer Relaunchers. They offer so much more than public speaking. The following is a list of areas where they excel, but this is not an exhaustive list.
- Toastmasters can help to craft and tell your story in interviews and in professional environments. It can give you the confidence to negotiate your role and future compensation.
- When you land that first and subsequent jobs it will teach you the technicalities of a presentation and the power of story.
- It will help you build your resilience and stamina as you progress through the Toastmasters program.
- It gives you access to a supportive community of like minded people, helping each other grow in a safe environment. A support system. You get to watch other people grow and in turn, this influences your growth.
- It gives you access to a network of professionals who work for companies that may have an open role for someone just like you. Or someone with experience in a role similar to yours that you can use as a mentor or coach.
- It provides you the opportunity to uplevel your leadership skills. When you take on a leadership role at the club you can influence the club membership growth, define and improve HQ processes and even start your own club. Offering to start a Toastmasters club at your new job could give you visibility at the leadership level and across the whole company and could set you up for professional success.
- Committing to join a Toastmasters club is an investment in you, your greatest resource.
Going back to work is exhilarating and empowering, but it doesn't have to be scary. It is a courageous step. Why not set yourself up for success by leveraging a local Toastmasters club and working to overcome the fear of public speaking, all while enjoying all the other leadership, community and growth benefits that go along with it? Toastmasters should not be perceived as an unlikely place to find support, it is the most obvious choice for support!