This was my icebreaker speech at Toastmasters, which I gave to my club just this morning. Please enjoy, and constructive criticism is welcome in the comments or via email..
The sound of my shoes against the tile echoed throughout the empty hallway. There is no enthusiasm in the monotonous rhythm, like a tap dance routine for the despairing. I told myself I was confident, that my suit fit me well, that it was a good day.
But my shoes betrayed me.
Another pair joined mine, echoing in my ears like polite, scattered applause for my average life.
I hated my mall job.
Don’t get me wrong – I wanted this job. I needed it. I have no college degree, a jewelry store pay isn’t terrible, it was not backbreaking labor. It was perfectly OKAY. I was newly married with a baby on the way and, after all, it takes a career to support a family and every career has to start somewhere.
But, truth be told, I was bored. People watching turned into watching the same people; mall rats who enjoyed spending their days inside the glossy cage.
Unlike my colleagues, I resisted laying my time and attention on the altar of my smartphone during the doldrums that we drifted through on most weekdays.
Today, as I walk into the store, I have a book under one arm and my lunch in the other. Nothing gets old faster than mall Chinese food; so tired on the taste buds.
I place my items away and start carefully setting pieces of jewelry into their small, retail-ready pedestals.
Setting up one jewelry case, my mind wanders to the week before – in the very same location – when a colleague told me I was terrible with people, and I needed to read some books on how to get along with them better. It hurt. I thought she was wrong. I also thought it was good advice.
We finished setting up, and the day is barely moving forward. I decide to read. I kept a few 3×5 index cards in my pocket and when I came across a life-changing nugget, I write it down. I would pull out the cards throughout the day so that if an opportunity came to apply the information, it would be fresh in my mind. Reviewing my cards now, I am interrupted by the sound of a customer walking in. But this is not just any customer, this is that customer. If you’ve worked in retail, you know that customer.
She marched up to the front counter, with her husband trailing a few feet behind, head hung sheepishly.
“I want to see your manager, now.”
The manager isn’t here.
“My rings have been in repair for three weeks. If I don’t have them back today, I am calling corporate.”
The sales associates exchanged uneasy glances. Her rings aren’t here either.
The sales associates just outside of the danger zone inched away carefully, desperately looking for another customer to help. Those unfortunate souls who happened to be behind the counter froze, unsure of what to do or say.
I felt myself moving forward. I had just read a note on how to command an uncomfortable situation. If now wasn’t the time, when would it be my time?
If the carpet had not dulled my footsteps, they would have sounded like music. It felt like my face was shining. I walked toward the counter in dramatic slow motion, and my coworker’s eyes seemed to say, “Save yourself!” The computer cursor blinks in disbelief. The buzz of the mall outside fades to a hum. Somewhere in my imagination, the song, Chariots of Fire crescendoes.
She looked taken aback by my sudden greeting.
“How can I help?” How could I help?
She never asked for my title. She didn’t need to. My eyes said I was the one to solve her problem. My tone said I will make this right today. Somehow, I did. I had no given-authority, no deliverable merchandise, and suddenly, no fear.
When she left, she had no complaints.
I walked into that mall that day with little hope, and I left with endless possibilities.
The world didn’t change. The mall didn’t change. I didn’t even change. I found something.
I am here today because I found something. You are here today because you have found something. Maybe it was that any room can be a classroom. Perhaps it is, if you can learn, you can do anything.
I found that if you are willing to learn, you can change the circumstances around you in an instant. If you will accept that you might be wrong, you can become someone different. Someone better.