Have you ever listened to an amazing vocalist, witnessed exceptional leadership or watched an Olympian win the gold by just a fraction of a second? I have, and those experiences inspired me deeply.
On a recent drive with my best friend, Mali, a song came on the radio that I’d heard a few times and loved. Mali told me the song was “Fifteen” by Taylor Swift. When I asked if Taylor Swift, was, in fact, fifteen years old, Mali said, “No, she’s nineteen, but she was discovered at fifteen.”
I stared off into the distance for a while. As the trees zipped past us, I silently contemplated the notion of being “discovered.” As I said, a great performance usually inspires me. This time, however, it made me feel like I’d missed the boat. At fifteen, I didn’t know I was a writer and couldn’t have told you what a keynote speech was. But I figured out my talent years ago, so why hasn’t anyone discovered me yet?
I needed feedback. “Mali, I’m talented, right?” I asked. “Why haven’t I been discovered yet?”
“Of course you’re talented,” she said. Then she got quiet again.
Well, that was helpful, I thought, but I understood she was giving me time to think through this internal challenge. I began contemplating what it means to get “discovered.” In Taylor Swift’s case, it meant the right people saw her perform, identified her talent and helped her gain exposure. But how did she become so talented that others wanted to watch her perform? I imagine she spent many hours over the years (over her childhood, really) writing songs, singing and performing in front of others. It took time and hard work. But the sacrifice was worth it to her.
On the other hand, there I was – an adult who dreamed of becoming an award-winning keynote speaker. Yet, I had not put that kind of dedication into honing my skills. I’ve successfully facilitated plenty of panels and workshops, and my off-the-cuff style works well in that arena, but keynote speaking is a different beast. However, at the time, I found it repulsive to watch myself on video, had not written out a single speech and rarely practiced. I thought if I just showed up, spoke and was really enthusiastic, they would like it. But I wasn’t getting a ton of repeat business – or any business, for that matter. It suddenly occurred to me that to become the very best – so good, in fact, that one gets “discovered” – requires a tremendous amount of practice. It’s hard work strengthening and honing raw talent into something polished and extraordinary, something that stands out and attracts opportunities to show case it.
I’ve been a best-selling writer for years. I can hit delete, copy and paste, and stop to think as long as I want before I move on to the next paragraph. I can come back to it later and revise, then send it to my editor(s). I can work on it until it’s ready. Speaking, on the other hand, means performing. I can’t revise once the words come out; I get one shot. That means I need to be prepared.
I made a pact with myself – to step up, be vulnerable and go back to the basics. I am learning how to write a speech, thinking through what I will say, which is far more difficult (and impactful) than speaking off the cuff. I record and watch myself speak and, most challenging of all, I joined Toastmasters, where I can practice and get feedback. I am dedicating the necessary hours, focus and passion to my craft. And one day, I’ll discover myself. Once that happens, the rest will take care of itself.
What’s your dream? What do you love to do and could drastically improve on if you would just give it your full attention? Rather than waiting for someone to discover your greatness, why not discover your talents and hone your skills? Set some goals and locate some stepping stones to get you there. I’m eager to learn how it goes for you!
Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations