I often wonder where I would be if it wasn’t for Toastmasters and I always come out blank. This organisation found me and gave life to my life. I lived my childhood in a conservative Setswana (from Botswana) home and as such we were conditioned to blend in, be quiet and never stand out at all. My upbringing made me afraid to interact with people or speak up for myself and for a very long time I was comfortable with it, but when I started working I realised it was not okay.
From that realisation I sought a way to make things better for myself and for a long time I didn’t get it. I started writing articles, mostly motivational, to prevent myself from suffocating. But after a while writing wasn’t enough so I needed something more and that’s where Toastmasters International came in. I attended my first meeting in November 2014, became a member one meeting after that because I immediately realised this is the piece I needed to complete my life puzzle. In February 2015 I started giving speeches, always terrified, my mouth dried up and it was noticeable when I spoke but what kept me going was the feedback I received from people. I was terrible but somehow some people saw me doing good and they wanted to help me become better. Every time I planned on giving a speech I would write it down give it to a gentleman who vowed to be my mentor and he would guide me through the speeches and I got better every time, I loved it.
As time went on I started taking up meeting roles and 6 months later I was asked to be the club treasurer. This gave me a lot of anxiety because I felt I wasn’t ready to be part of the club leadership. I felt I would fail the people but Toastmasters have a way of making you feel good about yourself and believing you can achieve great things so I went ahead and took up the role.
In my year as a treasurer I learnt to understand people more, managed to actively approach people and network, and most importantly I realised that my puzzle wasn’t complete. This allowed me to see that life is about learning and exploring yourself and your potential, and with every day that passed as a Toastmaster I got to go deeper into who I am. Most of it was scary because I had to keep on pushing the limits and boundaries that I had growing up. The puzzle gets completed with every step I take.
After completing my role as treasurer I became the president of the oldest and biggest club in Botswana. At first many people didn’t think I was good enough to be president, myself included, but I was promised support by my predecessor so I got in with my eyes on him.
As I continued with the on job training I was made aware that leadership is an expression of character and one’s personality so I should look more into myself and grow from there, so I did. Because I joined Toastmasters to grow myself and saw the wonders that are there in its education program I vowed to make sure that people see and experience it too. This is why my theme as president in 2016/2017 was ‘Pushing Limits and Reaching new heights’.
Toastmasters gave me a chance that I would have never got anywhere else.I was now more confident and put my hand up for the Area Director role 2017/2018. I understand myself more because of my experience with the leadership roles I took up. I no longer have doubts in myself and am no longer afraid to do the things that used to scare me. Toastmasters liberated me from myself, it’s an awesome experience and I urge everyone to use the organisation to grow themselves through making mistakes, learning from them and moving up with every project they do.
I face my days better because of what Toastmasters gave me and what I managed to get from it. My life puzzle is not complete and that is a very good thing, I get to have fun actively completing it every single day.
Baleseng Thobane DTM