If you’ve ever lost a contest, an election, or been turned down for a job, or a date, then you understand the agony that comes from ending up on the short end of the subjective stick. Having finished 2nd at the World Championship of Public Speaking in 2007, I was at that time, the #1 loser in the world for Toastmasters International. I’m now 27 years old and both the two years leading up to that moment and the two years since have been a wild ride.
To Vikas, and your hilarious story in 2007, congratulations! You are very deserving of the title. Now to all my fellow “losers” who have ever entered a contest and come up short, and to anyone who has ever put their heart and soul into a cause and lost, I have a message: success is never owned, it’s only rented; and whether you win or lose the rent is still due everyday.
Whether you are one of the amazing world champions or if you are one of the thousands like me who never quite won the big one, ALL of us are still very much on the journey to real success. Success is not about a trophy, a title, or a finish line. Success is, as the great philosopher Hannah Montana says, “all about the climb.”
We often convince ourselves that if we reach a certain pinnacle then we can officially be designated as “successful” forever. It doesn’t work that way though; not even for those who do become “champions.” While the saying “no one remembers who came in second,” is true, it’s also true that after enough time, no one remembers who came in first, either.
- Can you name the last five winners of Best Actor for the Academy Awards?
- How about the last five Gold medalists in the 400 meter?
- What about the last five Nobel Peace Prize recipients?
- Or maybe you know the last five winners of the World Cup?
I doubt that most people could answer these questions. These were not runners-up they were the very best, yet how quickly the world forgets about them. Competitions are truly not about whether you win or lose, but about the person you become in the process.
Things We Can’t Control
Frustration and despair set in when we’re focused and concerned about things that are beyond our control. Subjective judgment in a competition is always outside the control of the competitors. Competitors have no say in which individuals are selected to judge, where they sit, or how they’re feeling that day. While judges determine who goes home with the trophy, they don’t determine who goes home a success.
If we as competitors allow the subjective opinions of others to determine whether or not our journey has been a success, then we have failed indeed. If we allow circumstances outside of our control to dictate the conclusion of our pursuits, then we have failed.
But if we press on towards our goals in spite of what happens, then we’re a success. If, whether we win or we lose, we recognize the growth that is still available and we choose to persist, then we win. As members of Toastmasters who carry the flame of success and inspiration out into the world we must understand this principle. We win when we realize that success is never owned, it is only rented, and the rent is due every day.
Things We Can Control
We do have control over the amount of time and effort we invest into bettering our skill and our organization. When we put our self-esteem into our work habits the success we experience is not limited based on the results of any one event. We can lose almost any battle and still continue to win the war.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned was from World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix, who said, “Stage time is what matters – not age time.”
Since the world championship I’ve been fortunate as a professional speaker to speak with and for people like Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, and Dave Ramsey. It’s been a joy to have appeared on Oprah radio, in Success Magazine, and to now have built a multi-million dollar international speaking and training company, Southwestern Consulting™. In my newest venture (Take the Stairs World Tour) I’m raising thousands for charity by climbing the 10 tallest buildings in the world. And because of some of those successes many people see me and think “Wow, this kid’s lucky he was born with so much natural talent.”
I’ll be the first to praise God for anything and everything that I’ve been blessed with. And I’m truly flattered by comments of fans and supporters who cheer me on, but I wasn’t just born a great speaker or great leader. It’s the “stage time” that has made the difference.
From the day I decided to pursue the World Championship, October 27, 2005, until the day I earned second place, August 18, 2007, I spoke on stage 304 times. The 11 trophies I won along the way did not make me a great speaker, but the stage time did. So I may be fairly young in age time but not in stage time; not in experience.
Today, people see my polished performance as a keynote speaker for a company’s national meeting or at one of our Southwestern Consulting™ events in front of 1000 people and think “Goodness, he’s such a great speaker and he’s only 27 years old.”
What they didn’t see though was when I “bombed” at comedy clubs, got “heckled” in high schools, or when I was performing my speech in front of two people at the back of a Denny’s restaurant. Only my new documentary film Speaker captures the reality of that painful footage. What they also didn’t see was how distraught I really was the night I came in second at the speech contest.
It’s a characteristic of all successful champions, though, that they are made “after hours,” “behind the scenes,” “off-camera,” and in “training camp.” Successful people know they have to pay a price to get better. They know they have total control over how much they work. And they know if they work hard enough for long enough they’ll eventually look back and realize that somewhere along the way they’ve become successful.
So, if I can attribute my success to one element, it is discipline and getting myself to do things I don’t feel like doing. Whether I win or I lose, I know that tomorrow I must get up and recommit to paying my dues to achieve my goals. Could you bring yourself to be disciplined enough to relentlessly pursue those goals which matter most to you?
In the End
When I joined Toastmasters in 2005 I thought it was all about the World Championship. I realize now that Toastmasters is not about contests, but about the preparation that we are all going through to become better communicators. It’s about the people you help, the people who help you, and those people who selflessly serve to keep the clubs and our organization running week in and week out.
Success for all of us as an organization is not in the glamour of the stage but the daily grind of working at our craft and serving others. Toastmasters is the gracious and warm spirit that infected me when I visited those 96 clubs on my journey that helped me to become the speaker I am today.
So to the tens of thousands of my fellow “losers” and also to our winners I say: What sweet victory we can achieve through Toastmasters. Whether you finished first, second or dead last in any race, contest or vote, there is no one ruling that will destine you for success or failure in your life. Success is our choice and one that we must make each and every day. The real question is “are you willing to pay the rent again tomorrow?” So how’s the view from number 2? For people like you and me, it can still be very sweet.
See you in the stairwell,
Take the stairs – Success means doing what others won’t.