I can remember the first day I walked in to a Toastmasters meeting. I had heard that Toastmasters could assist me with my shyness and my inability to confidently hold any form of conversation. I had finished my degree and was constantly rejected by prospective employers because I would never be able to manage staff or take that next step in my career. In a way, I allowed others to place stereotypical labels on me. I had indeed grown up with this low self-confidence, believing myself to be unworthy and extremely mediocre and this attitude towards myself definitely came across in every single dealing I had with other human beings. Not only did I allow others to undermine my self-worth, but I embraced it myself and chose to be a victim of my circumstances.

I very quietly crept in to my first Toastmaster meeting and tried to be as inconspicuous as I possibly could, so that no one would notice my presence. I knew that the insecurities that I felt reflected like an image on a mirror and I was afraid that people would think I was a fraud, but I was welcomed and embraced immediately.  I felt so comfortable that I joined immediately and was scheduled for my Ice-breaker at the very next meeting.

I was encouraged at every step of the way and I started developing some confidence. I completed my Competent Communicator in about a year and shortly after that I came up with the idea to start a new club, because at that point there were very few breakfast clubs in Johannesburg. Once again, I was encouraged and made to feel that my idea was perhaps not such a bad idea after all. It was because of the wonderful people that I met and who encouraged me during this time that I started developing a belief in my own abilities.

I also started noticing that people’s reactions towards me both in my private life and my professional life was starting to change. I confidently started answering questions, instead of mumbling something indistinctly and hoping the questioner would leave me alone. Even my relationship with my husband improved significantly and I found a new openness in my marriage that I had not experienced ever before. Richard often proudly proclaims that he married a quiet girl and I comment that now I can even have a decent fight now.

After 4 years, I achieved my Distinguished Toastmaster Award, but knew there was even more for me to learn and different ways to grow. The beauty of the Toastmasters program is that there is always more to learn and different ways to grow and develop.

In my career, the past 7 years has been a whirlwind of growth and development and I have gone from strength to strength moving up through the ranks at different companies. I went from being told that I would never manage staff to managing many staff. One of the greatest compliments that I ever received was from previous staff who begged me to employ them in my new company. I have been able to use many of the skills learnt in Toastmasters to persuade and motivate subordinates and have also confidently expressed my views to management in various companies.

I am now at a crossroads where I am venturing in to a new business where I am setting up with a partner. I am told that starting a new club can be compared to starting a business and I am seeing definite similarities in the process and the perseverance required. I am confident that all the skills learnt in the past 7 years will assist me in this process that I am embarking on now.

Karen Armour

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