“See you tonight!” Mr. Fuller said with a smile as he passed by in the foyer.
“No, I won’t be there,” I replied, without a tinge of regret. After all, FOMO (fear of missing out) hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had Facebook, Instagram, nor TikTok. Heck, even MySpace wasn’t yet a thing.
“What do you mean you won’t be there?” My teacher said in surprise. “You have talent, you should nurture it!”
It was my senior year of high school, and while taking Mr. Fuller’s English class the previous year, one of our assignments involved writing a speech—and students with the highest grade were invited to participate in a youth speech contest put on by a local civic club. We spent weeks preparing for the contest, writing and rewriting our speeches and practicing our delivery until they were polished and ready to be presented to the judges.
Despite being a contest, it was no contest. I won. Hands down.
To some, this came as no surprise. After all, I had spent the previous five years honing my public speaking skills as a performing magician. Being on stage in front of a group of people became as natural as breathing.
But that wasn’t always the case.
As a young child, I was extremely shy—afraid to even speak to my own family. And even if I did want to speak, I couldn't, because I had such a severe stutter. I couldn’t even get a single syllable out without tripping over it, so I remained trapped in silence.
But when I discovered magic, I became fascinated by the idea of the impossible becoming possible—an alluring concept to a child who found it impossible even to communicate with others.
I began learning everything I could about magic, practicing the tricks of the trade that I found so inspiring. In time, I discovered a knack for it, and became excited to share what I had learned. And that’s when I reached a turning point: To share the magic, I had to learn to speak.
Armed with the confidence that I had something wonderful to share, I found my voice, and soon began sharing magic with anyone who would listen. By the age of twelve, I was performing magic shows every weekend for private parties, church picnics, company banquets, and community festivals. Throughout my high school career, I had become a seasoned performer, so it’s no wonder that I easily came out on top at the youth speech contest.
Having already won the contest during my junior year, I didn’t plan on participating again. I tried to explain this to Mr. Fuller, but he wasn’t having it.
“You have talent, you should nurture it!” He strongly encouraged.
“Okay, Mr. Fuller,” I said in resignation, “I’ll be there.”
There was only one problem: The contest was in four hours, and I hadn’t even written a speech yet! Everyone else spent weeks in preparation—writing and rewriting and polishing their delivery—and I didn’t even know what I was going to talk about yet!
I raced home and immediately got to work—vociferously scribbling sentences together, erasing rejects, and simultaneously memorizing every word by heart. The hours flowed by without notice, and before long I was driving back to school for the contest with just enough time to give the speech a first and final run through.
Despite the odds, I was ready, and despite it being a contest, it was no contest. I won. Again. Hands down.
As I accepted the award, I heard a mother offer words of encouragement to her son: “That boy won’t be here next year. You’ll have another shot.”
My heart ached for him.
But not too much.
After all, despite entering the contest at the last minute, I had spent years preparing for it, and that preparation took me from the discouraging place of not even being able to speak, to the encouraging place of discovering I have something wonderful to share—helping to finally find my voice, speak my truth, and boldly step forward and perform.
The experience provided some valuable insights:
Or as Mr. Fuller would say: “You have talent, you should nurture it.”
What is your talent and how are you nurturing it to share with the world?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.